States Sue to Keep Federal Taxpayer Money Despite Sanctuary Policies
By David Jaroslav | July 26, 2018
Sanctuary jurisdictions routinely try to “have their cake and eat it too” by restricting cooperation with federal immigration enforcement yet taking millions of federal taxpayer dollars, particularly in law-enforcement grants. And in recent weeks, several of them have sued the Trump Administration in hopes the courts will proclaim they’re entitled to that money no matter what dangerous sanctuary policies they adopt.
Six states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Washington—filed suit on July 18, while Illinois had already sued separately on July 12. Their lawsuits contend that the federal government is “coercing” them to enforce federal policies, because the Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions notified them they would have to meet certain conditions in order to receive federal law-enforcement grants from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program (so-called “Byrne JAG grants.”) Namely, to be eligible for the grant money, they have to “comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48-hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.” These reasonable conditions, the states argue, amount to outrageous “coercion” by the federal government.
Largely glossed over and minimized in the states’ lawsuits is that the federal government is allowed to restrict or attach “strings” to federal funds: courts have repeatedly upheld this, most famously in the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court case of South Dakota v. Dole, where the Court in a 7-2 opinion said federal highway funds could be conditioned on a state imposing a drinking age of 21 or over. If someone doesn’t want the federal strings, they’re free not to take the federal money. It’s essentially the same with respect to the strings attached to the federal Byrne JAG grants, yet the states have to argue that the situation is somehow radically different.
If anything, what few differences there might be between these cases and the Dole case actually favor the federal government, as the “[p]ower to regulate immigration is unquestionably exclusively a federal power” under the U.S. Constitution, while building or maintaining highways is not.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has repeatedly reported that sanctuary policies lead to the release of violent gang members and other dangerous criminal aliens who subsequently go on to reoffend. To let sanctuary jurisdictions take federal law-enforcement grants means forcing taxpayers nationwide to subsidize these harmful policies, adding insult to injury. To suggest it’s legally required is absurd. The courts should reject these suits.