Local governments across California are gauging the Trump Administration’s latest effort to discourage sanctuary cities, or those that limit cooperation with federal immigration agents.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week the Department of Justice would withhold a specific federal grant -- the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant -- from local law enforcement agencies unless they share information and jail access with federal immigration agents.
The grant pays for everything from fighting human trafficking to drug treatment services. But it’s typically less than one percent of a police or sheriff’s department budget.
UC Davis Law School Dean Kevin Johnson says the action is much more limited than President Trump’s previous call to hold back all federal funds from sanctuary cities.
“This is one grant program among many. I’m not saying it’s an insignificant amount of money,” Johnson told Capital Public Radio on Wednesday. “But it’s much narrower than executive order’s original threats were to defund sanctuary jurisdictions.”
Some of California’s largest cities, from Los Angeles to Sacramento, could be in jeopardy of losing grant funding.
Leon Fresco, a former Department of Justice immigration lawyer under the Obama administration, said earlier this year that President Trump’s actions against sanctuary cities will likely have limited effect.
Fresco said the federal government generally can’t withhold grants, and that court challenges would likely center on whether local law enforcement must assist federal immigration agents.
Whatever the outcome of the inevitable lawsuits, Fresco added, only a relatively small portion of city funding would hinge on it.
In Oakland, federal law enforcement grants account for about $2.5 million for the city and county. The city alone has a $1.2 billion budget.
Los Angeles receives less than $5 million from those grants for the city's $9 billion budget, while the county sees $6 million.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, who is president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, said the federal grants pay for less than one percent of his department’s $140 million budget.
'Every little bit helps'
Brown added that during a time of tight budgets, “every little bit helps.”
The requirements will apply to cities seeking grants starting in September.
Sessions for months had been warning jurisdictions they could lose money, just for having rules that limit communication among local police and immigration officials. The new conditions say officials must let Department of Homeland Security employees have access to local jails in order to meet with immigrants and must give them 48 hours’ notice before releasing an immigrant wanted by immigration authorities from their custody.
“This is what the American people should be able to expect from their cities and states,” Sessions said. “And these long overdue requirements will help us take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer.”
Some cities continued to resist the pressure.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office said it would fight to keep the grant funds, calling them key to keeping neighborhoods safe from gangs and crime.
“Mayor Garcetti believes that cities have a right to create sensible policies that keep our neighborhoods safe and protect our residents,” the mayor’s spokesman, Alex Comisar, said in an email.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.