County of Santa Clara Leads 42 Local Governments and Organizations Nationwide in Supporting “City of Chicago v. Sessions”

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Aim is to Block U.S. Department of Justice from Controlling Local Law Enforcement Policy

On August 31, 2017, the County of Santa Clara is filing an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief on behalf of 42 cities, counties, municipal agencies, and organizations across the nation.  The County’s brief, authored by the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office and filed with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in City of Chicago v. Sessions, urges the Court to grant the City of Chicago’s motion for a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of new federal grant conditions recently announced by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”).

The new DOJ conditions target the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, the leading source of federal grant funds for law enforcement, crime prevention, correctional, prosecution, indigent defense, and crime victim and witness programs. DOJ aims to disqualify state and local governments from receiving these funds unless they agree to assist the federal government in enforcing immigration law. The County’s brief argues that these unconstitutional and unlawful conditions undermine the ability of local law enforcement agencies to carry out their own considered judgments about how best to keep their communities safe.

“Local law enforcement officials around the country, including here in Santa Clara County, have said time and again that they cannot fulfill their duty to protect the community when immigrants are afraid to come forward and report crimes because they think the police will turn them over to immigration,” said Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Dave Cortese. “Local governments need the freedom to set policies based on what’s best for our communities.”

Many cities and counties around the country have decided that limiting their involvement in federal immigration enforcement promotes public safety by empowering all community members to report crimes and serve as witnesses. In fact, the brief cites evidence that communities where local police do not serve as immigration agents—including major cities like Chicago—have lower crime rates than those that do.

DOJ’s new grant conditions would force local governments to either abandon the policies that they have adopted to increase community trust and lower crime rates, or lose their main source of federal funding for critical law enforcement programs that help achieve these goals.

“These new conditions represent the federal government’s latest unconstitutional attempt to strip grant funds from local communities,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams.  “It is a core tenet of our Constitution that the executive branch cannot withhold funding to coerce changes in local policies or make local governments do the federal government’s work.”

The cities, counties, municipal agencies, and organizations that joined the County of Santa Clara in the filing include major cities across the nation such as Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle; as well as several large national organizations that represent local governments and their officials, including The U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, and the National League of Cities.

The Court will hold a hearing on Chicago’s motion for a preliminary injunction on September 11, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. Central Time.