As part of a larger decision, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos of the Southern District of New York ruled on Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice may not place conditions related to immigration matters on so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions” when distributing federal "Byrne" criminal justice grants. 

In addition, Ramos wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing states to legalize sports betting makes a federal law that attempts to control various states’ immigration policies unconstitutional. He wrote that high court’s ruling in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which it analyzed the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution earlier this year, also makes unconstitutional a federal law that prohibits state and local governments from restricting officials from sharing information with federal immigration authorities. “It necessarily follows that [8 U.S. Code Section 1373] is unconstitutional under the anticommandeering principles of the Tenth Amendment,” Ramos wrote. “Section 1373’s prohibition on states and localities from restricting their officials from communicating with immigration authorities constitutes a ‘direct order’ to states and localities in violation of the anticommandeering rule.”

Ramos is a native of Puerto Rico who was nominated to the bench by Barack Obama. 

So far, there is no nationwide ruling on sanctuary jurisdiction and whether the Trump administration can block cities, counties, and states from receiving the Byrne grants if they curtail their cooperation with federal immigration officials. Judge Ramos turned down the request of the plaintiffs in Friday's case to strike down the Trump's conditions nationwide. While a federal judge and a three-judge appeals panel in Chicago did so earlier this year, those rulings were later limited to apply only to Chicago.

Ramos argued that the Supreme Court ruled that since the federal government may not dictate states’ legislative power to enact laws regarding betting on sports, the same holds true for states’ immigration policies. Legal experts consider this a significant defeat for the Trump administration, which has sought the cooperation of local and state governments in immigration law enforcement. While a previous appellate decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit came to a different decision on the statute mentioned above, Ramos wrote that it was annulled by Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.

At issue in the lawsuit was funding from the Department of Justice known as the “Byrne JAG” grant,  which was named after a New York City police officer killed in the line of duty. Since 2006, the grant money has been distributed to state and local governments since 2006. In 2017, the Trump administration imposed new conditions that required state and local governments to comply with certain requests by federal immigration authorities. The federal government required that immigration agents should be given access to jails and given advance notice if an immigrant is released from custody. The requirements also prohibited states and local jurisdictions from prohibiting officials from speaking with ICE about an immigrant.

Judge Ramos wrote that besides the constitutional issues raised by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Murphy case, the Trump administration’s new conditions raised issues about the separation of powers between the U.S. attorney general and Congress. “Congress has neither conditioned Byrne JAG funds on the three conditions here nor delegated the authority to impose these conditions to the executive branch,” Ramos wrote. “The Byrne JAG statute provides ‘a firm commitment’ of funding according to statutorily prescribed criteria, and the executive branch does not have ‘the seemingly limitless power to withhold funds’ from grantees who refuse to accept its unilaterally imposed conditions.”

Besides the above, the lawsuit also brought claims against the Trump administration on possible violations of the Administrative Procedure Act. Plaintiffs had argued that the Department of Justice didn’t take into consideration the effect the new conditions would have on cities and states. For its part, the Trump administration showed documents in the administrative record to support the new rule. While Ramos acknowledged the supporting documents, he ruled that the DOJ did not reveal the negative effects of the new rules. “Conspicuously absent from all of these documents is any discussion of the negative impacts that may result from imposing the conditions, and the record is devoid of any analysis that the perceived benefits outweigh these drawbacks,” Ramos wrote. “Defendants did not consider whether the perceived benefits of the conditions outweighed these negative impacts on underserved local populations or whether such impacts could be mitigated.”

Ramos struck down the conditions Byrne JAG funding, but only for the jurisdictions that were plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The DOJ was ordered to reissue award letters for the plaintiffs without the imposed conditions and to distribute any funding currently owed to them. The other plaintiff states on New York state Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s lawsuit were New York City, and the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington. When the lawsuit was filed, New York City claimed that the Trump administration held back $4 million in the funding to them because of the new rule. Underwood, a Democrat, said then that her state could lose as much as $9 million because of the conditions.

Applauding the decision, New York City Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter said in a statement, “The Court’s decision upholds well-established principles of federalism that prohibit interference in how municipalities and states manage relationships with their immigrant populations, particularly where public safety, health and welfare are concerned,” Carter said. “The Department of Justice sought to impose grant conditions that would undermine City policies that have proven effective in enhancing public safety by encouraging all of its residents to engage with local law enforcement without fear of adverse immigration law consequences.”

New York City has been a sanctuary city for several years, which is a policy that it has reaffirmed since President Donald Trump took office and despite his promise to hold back federal funding, intended for law enforcement, sanctuary jurisdictions. San Francisco and Berkeley, California, as well as other cities also have sanctuary policies. New York City’s suit was consolidated on Friday with a lawsuit on the same issue that had been brought by New York state Attorney General Barbara Underwood and the attorneys general of six other states. 

In a statement, Underwood said that the court had reaffirmed the authority for local and state law enforcement officials to flout federal immigration authorities. “As we argued, local law enforcement has the right to decide how to meet their local public safety needs—and the Trump administration simply does not have the right to require state and local police to act as federal immigration agents,” Underwood said. “The Trump administration’s attempt to withhold these vital funds was nothing more than a political attack at the expense of our public safety.”

Ramos's ruling was not groundbreaking, since several other judges have reached similar decisions. However, it applies to a broad number of jurisdictions in the country and orders the administration to release the Byrne funds.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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