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SF, California sue Trump administration for targeting sanctuary city funding

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera speak during a news conference held at San Francisco City Hall Monday, August 14, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco has filed a new lawsuit against the Trump administration for threatening to strip federal funding from sanctuary cities, City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced Monday.

This time, Herrera has joined California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in filing dual lawsuits against the federal government for restrictions it placed last month on law enforcement grants for local and state agencies.

The restrictions prevent the agencies from receiving grant funding unless federal immigration authorities are allowed full access to local jails and are given 48 hours notice before undocumented inmates are released.

“In the name of public safety, this president is undercutting law enforcement by trying to withhold money used to fight crime,” Herrera said. “This might make sense to this White House, but it doesn’t make sense for most Americans.”

The lawsuits claim that the U.S. Department of Justice restrictions are unconstitutional. Herrera called the restrictions a “backdoor attempt” to punish sanctuary cities after a federal judge blocked President Donald Trump’s executive order targeting federal funding for sanctuary cities in January.

The lawsuits marks the first time that a state has become involved in the legal conflict over sanctuary cities with the Trump administration and the second time that San Francisco has sued the administration.

At a City Hall news conference, Herrera and Becerra framed the lawsuits as a fight to preserve resources for California law enforcement and a struggle to uphold the constitution rather than a twist on the often conservative battle for states’ rights.

“I don’t see this as a fight against the federal government,” Becerra said. “We’re fighting to protect the constitution. We’re trying to abide by the words of the constitution that left all those powers that are not enumerated in the constitution for the federal government to the states and local governments.”

Last month, the justice department announced the new restrictions on Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants, which are used across California for programs to reduce recidivism, support crime victims and for at-risk youth.

In San Francisco, Herrera said the funding supports diversion programs, alternative courts and social services.

The restrictions put $1.5 million a year in jeopardy for San Francisco, including $500,000 directly from the federal government and as much as $1 million through the state, and upward of $28 million annually in jeopardy across California counties, according to Herrera and Becerra.

Becerra said the funding is “the difference between trying to keep someone from going in the wrong direction and having them become the next serial murderer.”

“You never know,” Becerra said. “Perhaps what’s more important overall is the indirect pressure that it places all these cities and counties under and having to worry about whether or not they can apply for funds. It’s the heavy hand of the federal government imposing its will and threatening you.”

San Francisco filed the first lawsuit against the Trump administration in response to a January executive order from Trump, which was not limited to law enforcement grants.

However, U.S. District Judge William Orrick placed an injunction on the order in April as a result of the lawsuit. The injunction is still in effect.

“It’s pretty clear that this is another attempt to accomplish what they were unsuccessful in accomplishing with the sanctuary city executive order,” Herrera said.

Herrera filed the San Francisco lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit names U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Becerra is expected to file the state lawsuit in federal court Monday.

The Trump administration is expected to respond in court in a month.

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