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L.A. looks to join fight against Trump administration over threats to withhold anti-crime funds for 'sanctuary' cities

The City of Los Angeles announced Tuesday that it is suing President Trump’s Department of Justice, claiming that new conditions requiring police to cooperate with immigration officials in order to qualify for anti-crime funding are unconstitutional and should be blocked. (August 22, 2017) (Sign up for our free video newsletter here http://bit.ly/2n6VKPR)

The city of Los Angeles sought Tuesday to join a legal battle against President Trump's Department of Justice over conditions requiring police to cooperate with immigration enforcement officials in order to qualify for anti-crime funding.

City Atty. Mike Feuer filed papers in U.S. District Court asking the judge hearing a lawsuit brought earlier this month by San Francisco city officials to let Los Angeles quickly into that fray.

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In its lawsuit, San Francisco is seeking to strike down rules U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions announced last month for Justice Department funds that have long been dispersed to local law enforcement agencies to bolster efforts to fight violent and gang crime. Going forward, Sessions said at the time, police agencies that want a piece of the funding would have to first demonstrate that they are willing to help immigration officials identify and detain people in local jails who are suspected of being in the country illegally.

Specifically, Sessions said police would be required to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers access to local jails and to notify ICE 48 hours before releasing from their jail someone tagged by federal authorities as possibly being in the country illegally.

The conditions imposed by Sessions, Feuer argued, violate the separation of powers laid out in the country's Constitution, which give Congress, not the executive branch, control of government purse strings. Feuer said the money has been used in Los Angeles largely to fund a long-running city program in which police, city attorneys, the district attorney's office and probation officials collaborate to target the city's worst gang neighborhoods.

“The Trump administration is overreaching, and we’re going to fight it,” Feuer said at a City Hall news conference. “We’re going to fight because the administration would put Los Angeles to the untenable choice of risking a key public safety grant or making the LAPD an arm of federal immigration policy.”

The Justice Department awards the grant money to states and cities annually. In the past, the amount cities receive has been calculated based on population and crime statistics. In each of the last 20 years, Los Angeles has received more than $1 million, including $1.8 million for the 2016 fiscal year, Feuer said. This year, L.A. would be eligible to receive $1.9 million, to be shared between the city and the county, according to city figures.

Feuer wrote in court papers that it was important for Los Angeles to join the San Francisco case in order to "permit the court to consider DOJ's conditions in light of differing local policies."

He wrote that San Francisco, for example, has a policy generally prohibiting city officials from even responding to an ICE request for advance notification of an inmate's release, but no such policy existed in Los Angeles. Instead, Feuer said, his objection to the notification requirement was rooted in concerns it would force the LAPD to prolong the time inmates would otherwise remain behind bars, which several courts have ruled unconstitutional.

Regarding access to jails, LAPD's policy does not allow ICE unfettered access, although immigration officers can interview an inmate who consents to it.

In his comments Tuesday, Feuer presented the new funding conditions as a threat to public safety in Los Angeles. The LAPD restricts its cooperation with ICE, he said, as part of a broader effort to build trust with the city's immigrant communities and assure people living here illegally that they will not be at risk of being deported if they come forward to report a crime as a victim or witness.

Justice Department officials fired back, criticizing the move by Los Angeles and arguing that the funding requirements would, in fact, increase safety in the city.

Citing an increase in crime rates in Los Angeles in recent years, department spokesman Devin O'Malley said in a statement, "It is so baffling that the city would challenge policies designed to keep residents of L.A. safer. … Reversing sanctuary city policies is about more than just enforcing federal immigration law by detaining criminals here illegally — it's about reestablishing a culture of law and order, where crimes are punished and people are deterred from committing them."

The legal challenge is the latest response to threats by the Trump administration to cut funds to so-called sanctuary cities. Chicago fired the first volley over the current funding requirements when it filed a lawsuit earlier this month. Then last week California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra announced the state was also filing a lawsuit in conjunction with San Francisco's.

In an earlier challenge to the president's executive order on immigration, San Francisco and Santa Clara County won a nationwide injunction that blocked the administration from withholding all sources of federal funding — not just law enforcement grants controlled by the Justice Department — to cities it deemed to be sanctuaries. Seattle, along with others, followed with similar lawsuits.

Follow @joelrubin on Twitter

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UPDATES:

4:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from Feuer.

2:30 p.m.: This article has been updated with comments from Feuer and a Justice Department spokesman as well as background about the legal dispute.

This article was originally published at 11:05 a.m.

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