(ESPAÑOL) The DOJ recently said it gave special treatment to cities that fully cooperate with detention requests made by federal immigration authorities.
The news comes not long after a number of federal courts blocked the Trump administration from attempting to keep grant funding from sanctuary cities.
Those federal court decisions overruled an executive order signed by President Trump in January to withhold funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, which generally refers to cities or counties that do not provide information to federal agents about people who may be in the country illegally.
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions awarded nearly $100 million in federal grants to police departments across the country to hire more than 800 new, full-time officers.
The grants came from the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — known as COPS — which started in 1994.
In deciding how to award this year’s COPS grants, the DOJ gave a leg up to law enforcement agencies that assisted federal immigration officials, including providing access to local jails and inmates as well as giving advance notice when inmates suspected of being in the country illegally would be released. The DOJ told applicants of the criteria ahead of time.
Sessions said 80 percent of this year’s grantees fully cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
A federal judge in Philadelphia has objected to Sessions’ remarks, saying there is no evidence that withholding the legal status of a resident puts public safety at risk.
Temple University law professor Jennifer Lee said the DOJ prioritization appears to have the same goal as the executive order: to crack down on sanctuary cities for refusing to help ICE officers. “It feels very similar in flavor to the yanking of federal grants from jurisdictions based on their sanctuary status,” she said.
Lee said the priority consideration for law enforcement agencies that cooperate with ICE could be construed as unconstitutional, but added that it is typical for the federal government to set criteria that prioritize certain applicants over others.
That’s one reason, she said, that a court challenge could be more complicated than the lawsuits against the January executive order.
“Legally, it is a harder question because it doesn’t create that obvious dividing line of either you get the grant or you don’t,” Lee said.