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Judge: Feds Wrongfully Interfered With $6M In Grants Over Oregon Sanctuary Law

<p>People protest U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' visit to Portland on Sept. 19, 2017.</p>

Ericka Cruz Guevarra

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People protest U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' visit to Portland on Sept. 19, 2017.

A federal judge has ruled that President Trump and the attorney general wrongfully interfered with about $6 million in federal grants for law enforcement in Oregon.

The Trump administration had threatened to claw back funding from so-called sanctuary cities and states.

Last November, Oregon and the city of Portland sued over one grant in particular: the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program.

Congress created the grant program in 2005. It awards states and cities funding based on their population and rates of violent crime.

Over the years, Oregon and Portland received more than $26 million in JAG grants. The funds paid for a wide range of local priorities: hiring victim’s advocates to work sex crimes cases, purchasing bulletproof vests, and starting drug courts.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Justice has imposed new conditions on the grants, including requiring states to certify that they will cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.

For example, they have to provide 48 hours notice before the scheduled release of any undocumented immigrant, allow the Department of Homeland Security access to any detention facility, and affirm that they will comply with a federal law that requires state and local governments to share information regarding a person’s immigration status.

The Justice Department withheld Oregon’s 2017 and 2018 JAG grant funding — about $4 million — until last month, due to concerns that Oregon’s sanctuary law prevents the state from meeting the new, immigration-related conditions imposed on the grants.

Oregon, meanwhile, has said that given the DOJ’s position, it cannot spend the money without risking penalties for violating the DOJ’s conditions.

Portland faced similar delays and problems with about $700,000 in grants the city had applied for in 2017 and 2018.

In court, the DOJ argued that placing conditions on the grants was necessary to ensure a functioning system of federal immigration law. Oregon’s attorney general argued that the state’s sanctuary law helps ensure that all communities in Oregon feel safe cooperating with and getting help from local law enforcement agencies.

In a ruling Thursday, Judge Michael McShane held that the Trump administration had violated provisions of the Constitution that guarantee states’ rights and congressional spending power by using the grants to try to pressure Oregon to change its sanctuary law.

McShane concluded that the provisions of federal law that bar local governments from restricting the information they share with federal immigration enforcement officials are unconstitutional.

"That is precisely the type of affront to state sovereignty which the Tenth Amendment forbids," he wrote.

McShane agreed to issue an order compelling the DOJ to release the funds to Oregon and Portland without the disputed immigration conditions.

But he stopped short of issuing the nationwide injunction the Oregon attorney general had asked for.

His ruling follows similar decisions by judges in other states concerning the funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.

However, sanctuary jurisdictions like Oregon and Portland have had less success arguing they are being unfairly denied funding from other DOJ programs.

In a recent ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Trump administration can impose immigration-related requirements on cities competing for grants from a different federal program that supports community-oriented policing.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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Amelia Templeton is a multimedia reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting, covering Portland city hall, justice and local news. She was previously a reporter for EarthFix, an award-winning public media project covering the environment in the Northwest.