President Trump has suffered another defeat in court on immigration issues, as a federal judge in the Northern District of California issued a nationwide injunction stopping enforcement of the “sanctuary cities” executive order. The New York Times reports:
U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued the temporary ruling in a lawsuit against the executive order targeting so-called sanctuary cities. The decision will stay in place while the lawsuit works its way through court.
The Trump administration and two California governments that sued over the order disagreed about its scope during a recent court hearing.
San Francisco and Santa Clara County argued that it threatened billions of dollars in federal funding for each of them, making it difficult to plan their budgets.
“It’s not like it’s just some small amount of money,” John Keker, an attorney for Santa Clara County, told Orrick at the April 14 hearing.
Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general, said the county and San Francisco were interpreting the executive order too broadly. The funding cutoff applies to three Justice Department and Homeland Security Department grants that require complying with a federal law that local governments not block officials from providing people’s immigration status, he said.
The order would affect less than $1 million in funding for Santa Clara County and possibly no money for San Francisco, Readler said.
The legal issues at play here are complicated, and we’ll leave it to other, more expert sites to explicate them. In short, it appears that the judge’s order found that the executive order did not square with Acting Assistant Attorney General Readler’s explanation—but then issued a court order that adopted Readler’s reading: the government cannot withhold anything more than the small amount of grant money it was already permitted to by law.
Politically, this ruling shows why this suit was fought, will continue to be fought, and why there will be other fights like it after: if you construe the order as affecting as all federal funds,
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration will continue to push back, again for reasons that are a mix of pragmatic concerns, conviction, and politics. It’s hard for the U.S. government to enforce immigration laws without the cooperation of state and local governments, who employ the vast majority of the nation’s cops. It seems outrageous to Trump’s core constituency that state and local leaders flout the President’s authority to protect those who have already broken the law. (The ironies of history, or derision with which leaders like Bill de Blasio would usually speak of “state’s rights,” are not lost on this group.) And many who are not Trump supporters share worries about what this does to the rule of law and cooperation between local, state, and federal officials.
But the federal government’s tools to get recalcitrant cities to cooperate here are pretty poor, and mostly funding-related. Moreover, those are trammeled by a host of rules—many, ironically, designed to protect federalism and separation of powers, and which lead to court cases like this one. And so long as the Congressional wing of the G.O.P. remains split on this issue, and the legislative branch generally remains paralyzed, this state of affairs is likely to continue. In the absence of creative solutions or grand bargains, more President-vs.-the-mayors fights will continue to crop up, carried out along these basic lines.
President Trump is the second President in a row who, frustrated by the state of our immigration politics, has decided to try to enforce his priorities through unilateral executive action. Both were smacked down by the courts—President Obama in U.S. v Texas, President Trump in both the “travel ban” cases and this one. The difference so far is that President Obama sought what was ultimately a form of inaction. As a result, even after U.S. v. Texas prevented the expansion of overt authorizations to remain, much of the framework of executive amnesty remains in place (some of it has even been embraced by the Trump Administration.)
President Trump, for his part, has had far more trouble compelling action that he wants but others won’t go along with. He’s yet to figure out how to get either the courts or Congress to work with him on this issue. And when it comes to unilateral action, the Administration is back to the drawing board again. Meanwhile, as long as both Trump and the Democrats think that keeping the immigration pot boiling helps them politically, neither side is going to let the issue cool.