Hours after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday that blocked part of President Donald Trump's executive order targeting so-called "sanctuary cities," the White House released a scathing statement slamming the judge's ruling.
"Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation," the statement said. "This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge."
San Francisco and Santa Clara County had both sued the Trump administration shortly after he signed the executive order on Jan. 25, arguing that the order threatened a loss of billions of dollars in federal funding and threw their budget planning into chaos.
Lawyers for the Trump administration had argued that the order was narrow in its scope and wouldn't result in a major loss of funding to either jurisdiction. They argued in court that the order only concerned the 1990s-era law 8 USC 1373, which ensures that local officials don't impede the exchange of information regarding people's immigration and citizenship statuses between local, state, and federal authorities.
The White House statement, however, appeared to mix up two key immigration enforcement issues, adding more confusion to the battle over sanctuary cities:
"According to Congress, a city that prohibits its officials from providing information to federal immigration authorities — a sanctuary city — is violating the law. Sanctuary cities, like San Francisco, block their jails from turning over criminal aliens to Federal authorities for deportation. These cities are engaged in the dangerous and unlawful nullification of Federal law in an attempt to erase our borders."
The first sentence is correct. In his ruling, Judge William Orrick explicitly said the federal government can continue to "enforce existing conditions of federal grants or 8 USC 1373."
But the White House's statement goes on to slams cities who "block their jails from turning over criminal aliens." That's a separate issue — detaining suspected unauthorized immigrants in order to hand them over to federal authorities is not part of 8 USC 1373.
In other words, so long as local officials don't obstruct immigration-related information from being exchanged with government entities, there is no requirement under federal law that they participate in "turning over" immigrants to federal authorities.
Conflating those two issues also contradicts one of the arguments the Trump administration's lawyers used in their hearing before Judge Orrick. Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler told the court that the executive order's threats to withhold funding only applied to grants contingent upon 8 USC 1373 compliance, and not the broader issue of detainer requests as many cities and counties feared.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said as much on Tuesday, according to mayors who met with him. Sessions reportedly reassured the mayors that the Trump administration is adopting a narrow definition of the term "sanctuary cities," limiting it to 8 USC 1373 compliance.
Given the ongoing mixed messaging, the White House's statement on Tuesday was "grossly misleading and highlights, yet again, the President's willingness to lie in an effort to bully and coerce local communities," Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams told Business Insider in a statement.
"The President’s attorneys stated clearly in open court that civil immigration detainers are voluntary and argued that Santa Clara County and San Francisco comply with applicable federal law. But the President is now conflating immigration detainers with a federal law that his own attorneys agreed have nothing to do with detainers," Williams said.
"This is why we needed the preliminary injunction."
Legal experts have for months seized upon the Trump administration's continued conflation of detainer compliance with Section 1373 compliance, arguing that it further confuses the public on an already complicated issue.
"What it clearly doesn't impact — Section 1373 — is the decision to detain or not detain somebody at the request of the federal government," Christopher Lasch, a professor at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, told Business Insider in March.
"It is the detainer compliance, that's what's really bothering the administration, and they're using 1373 as this ruse to try to convince people that sanctuary jurisdictions are somehow flouting federal law."
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