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Chicago judge bars Justice Department from withholding SF grants

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Ruling in Chicago case an indirect boost for SF, California

A pro-immigration rally on May Day in San Francisco.
A pro-immigration rally on May Day in San Francisco.
Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

A federal judge in Chicago ruled Friday that the Justice Department can’t withhold federal grants from sanctuary cities, the latest in a string of rulings stymying White House efforts to force local crackdowns on immigration.

The Chicago Tribune reports that District Judge Harry Leinenweber issued an injunction barring the federal government from enforcing Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s attempts to withhold funds.

Lenineweber found that the city of Chicago, one of several jurisdictions including San Francisco presently suing the Justice Department over such policies, had sufficiently argued its likelihood of success and that letting Sessions act unimpeded until the suit ends would cause “irreparable harm” by damaging Chicago immigrants’ trust in the city.

"Once such trust is lost, it cannot be repaired through an award of money damages, making it the type of harm that is especially hard to rectify,” wrote Lenineweber.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel called the ruling “not just a victory for the city of Chicago,” but also for other jurisdictions backing the city’s case and “a rejection of the false choice that the Trump Justice Department wanted Chicago to make.”

It’s also an indirect break for San Francisco, another city that could see federal dollars choked off if the Justice Department policy prevails, potentially imperiling the budget for things like homeless services and infrastructure.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera is also in the process of suing Sessions over this very policy, in tandem with the state.

Jeff Sessions at a podium, in front of several American flags.
Jeff Sessions.
Photo by Gage Skidmore

In August, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra declared the attempt at a coerced immigration crackdown “pure intimidation intended to force our law enforcement into changing the policies and practices that they have determined promote public safety.”

No one at the City Attorney’s office was immediately available to comment on how the Chicago ruling may affect San Francisco’s suit on the same issue.

[Update: Via email Herrara told Curbed SF, "We applaud the court’s decision that the U.S. attorney general lacks the authority to impose these new conditions on law enforcement grants. The Trump administration is playing politics with public safety. [...] This is why we have a judiciary."]

As for now, a national injunction applies to California and shields San Francisco from reprisal over its immigration policies.

In response, Justice Department spokesperson Devin O’Malley alleged in comments to the Associated Press on Friday that cities like San Francisco and Chicago “make their communities less safe and undermine the rule of law.”

The injunction may prove temporary, depending on further developments in this and other suits.