With Attorney General Merrick Garland in charge, the Justice Department has now reversed a Trump era policy that kept federal grant money from localities that implemented so-called “sanctuary” policies, under which local authorities have refused to act as de facto extensions of federal immigration enforcement.
Contrary to claims from certain high-profile Republicans, “sanctuary cities” do not wantonly allow criminals to roam freely under the guise of a pro-immigration stance. Criminals are still arrested! In reality, authorities in these areas simply refuse to directly assist federal authorities with immigration enforcement efforts that are outside the ordinary purview of local law enforcement. Turning local law enforcement into arms of federal immigration authorities could intimidate immigrant communities away from getting in touch with law enforcement when in need.
The Trump administration tied grant money available through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants program to whether or not certain localities would cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts. With “sanctuary” policies in place, locales were excluded from the federal assistance.
The grant program in question, Reuters says, “is the Justice Department’s leading source of reimbursement to state and local law enforcement to pay for a variety of initiatives, from prosecutions and corrections programs, to drug and mental health treatment centers,” and hundreds of millions of dollars are distributed through the initiative. The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James has said that New York has missed out on $30 million in potential grant money over the four years that the Trump administration was in power.
Acting head of the Office of Justice Programs Maureen Henneberg wrote a memo outlining the new policy changes, undoing another piece of Trump’s legacy at the Justice Department. In her memo, Henneberg said that she had ordered staff to “pull down and revise all solicitations that describe requirements or priority consideration elements or criteria pertaining to immigration.” In other words, immigration policy-related requirements for the grant money are getting removed.
Prior to Henneberg’s move, Biden already “overturned a Trump executive order that had allowed the Justice Department to pressure cities that refused to notify federal immigration authorities when people living in the U.S. illegally have been detained for criminal violations, including minor ones,” Reuters explains. The Trump administration’s policy of withholding grant money from “sanctuary” cities and states grew into a slew of lawsuits, including one that hit the point of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court from targeted states after an appeals court ruled in the Trump administration’s favor — but this appeal has been withdrawn following the Biden administration’s assumption of power.