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Government Can't Withhold Grants From Sanctuary City

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 20, 2019 6:00 AM

A federal appeals court rebuffed the Trump administration for withholding federal grant money from Philadelphia because it is a sanctuary city.

In City of Philadelphia v. Attorney General of the United States, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals said the Justice Department unlawfully punished the city for its position on immigration. Jeff Sessions, attorney general at the time, said last year that cities would not receive federal funds unless they cooperated with U.S. immigration officials.

The unanimous appeals court affirmed a trial judge who said the government's action was "arbitrary and capricious." The City of Brotherly Love, for its part, welcomed the Third Circuit ruling with open arms.

Grant Ruling

The court decision protects $1.6 million the city receives from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Grant. It is designed to support programs that reduce crime and positively impact communities.

"Philadelphia is proud to be a city that welcomes all of those who seek safe haven, and this ruling affirms our right to do so," Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. "The conditions imposed by the DOJ were an unconscionable attempt to bully the city and its residents into changing our policies."

Judge Marjorie Rendell, writing for the appeals court, said the attorney general has limited authority to monitor and review financial grants. The Byrne grant is based on population and crime statistics, not the attorney general's discretion.

"Allowing the attorney general to withhold all funds because a jurisdiction does not certify compliance with any federal law of the attorney general's choosing undermines the predictability and consistency embedded in the program's design," she wrote.

Warrant Ruling

However, the appeals court reversed the trial court's ruling on warrants in the case. Judge Michael Baylson said the government was required to obtain a warrant to transfer an undocumented alien to federal custody.

Meanwhile, President Trump declared a national emergency in his battle to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. A coalition of 16 states then sued the president to block the action, saying his declaration was unconstitutional.

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