Oregon, the first sanctuary state, will receive grants which the Trump administration tried to block

On Thursday, August 8th, a U.S. District Judge in Eugene, Oregon ruled that the Trump administration cannot withhold millions of dollars in law enforcement grants from Oregon. The attempt to withhold those funds was designed to force Oregon to cooperate with U.S. immigration enforcement.

Oregon, the First Sanctuary State

On July 7, 1987, then-Governor Neil Goldschmidt (D) signed into law a bill that effectively prevented police and sheriff’s deputies from enforcing federal immigration law. The Oregon Revised Statutes 181A.820 attempts to distinguish between “OK crimes” and “not-OK crimes” as follows:

No law enforcement agency of the State of Oregon or of any political subdivision of the state shall use agency moneys, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws.

In late 2016, Republican members of the Oregon Legislature tried to get a measure repealing the sanctuary legislation on the 2018 state ballot, but the Oregon Department of Justice denied their request. In August 2018, a group of county sheriffs in Oregon were able to get an initiative on the November ballot that would repeal the state sanctuary law, called Measure 105, but it was voted down on election day.

Edward Byrne Memorial JAG Program

The U.S. Department of Justice Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program provides federal criminal justice funding to state, local and tribal jurisdictions, and are the largest source for such funding.

In July 2017, the Department of Justice announced that sanctuary jurisdictions would lose access to Edward Byrne Memorial JAG grants if those jurisdictions prohibited local officials from communicating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), if they prevented ICE from interviewing jail inmates, or if they failed to notify ICE of the pending release of criminal aliens that ICE wanted to deport.

The Sanctuary Cities Fight Back

On September 15, 2017, acting on a lawsuit brought by the City of Chicago, a U.S. District Court Judge issued a nationwide preliminary injunction prohibiting the Justice Department from withholding the JAG grants from sanctuary cities, on the grounds that the federal branch doesn't have the power to modify the conditions under which grant money is disbursed.

In his opinion, Judge Harry Leinenweber found that the new Department of Justice conditions "violate the separation of powers doctrine" which delegates exclusive lawmaking authority to Congress. The judge added that he would apply his order nationally because there was "no reason to think that the legal issues present in this case are restricted to Chicago …" In April 2018, a federal appeals court in Chicago upheld that ruling.

On November 30, 2018, a U.S. District Judge in Manhattan ruled in favor of New York City and the states of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington, which had sued the Trump administration over the imposition of conditions for Justice Assistance Grants, due their status as sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. Those six states had received grants totaling $25 million in the previous fiscal year, and New York City had said it was entitled to $4 million.

Oregon's Turn Finally Arrives

By March 2019, all other sanctuary jurisdictions had received or been cleared to receive the Byrne grants, except for Oregon. Back in November, Oregon state officials had sued President Donald Trump for the $4 million in grants originally scheduled for fiscal years 2017 and 2018. On August 8, U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane ruled that the Trump administration's attempt to place conditions on the grants enacted by Congress violated the 10th Amendment, which reads:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Judge McShane ordered the federal government to deliver the grants planned for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, without condition or penalty.