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Santa Clara County seeks to block Trump's order to defund sanctuary cities

Santa Clara County asked a federal judge Thursday to block President Trump’s executive order threatening the loss of federal funds to local governments that do not assist immigration authorities.

The motion, filed in federal district court, asks that a nationwide hold be placed on the order targeting “sanctuary” cities and counties.

“We are defending Santa Clara County’s core values and the values of so many cities and counties across the nation,” Dave Cortese, president of the Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “There is no justification for withholding nearly $1.7 billion in funds used to deliver essential county services.”  

The county filed a suit against Trump on Feb. 3, one of many claiming the order overstated the power of the executive branch. City officials in San Francisco also filed a similar lawsuit last month.

Santa Clara County’s general counsel, James R. Williams, said the motion was the first filed in the country aimed at blocking the sanctuary city directive. A hearing has been tentatively scheduled before Judge William H. Orrick in San Francisco on April 5, he said.

“We are spending millions of dollars each week from our general funds in anticipation of getting federal reimbursement,” he said. “So we need immediate relief.”

In the Jan. 25 order, Trump threatened to revoke federal funding from the approximately 400 “sanctuary cities” in the country, referring to municipalities that have time and again refused to comply with detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or take part in other immigration enforcement actions.

While there is no legal definition of a “sanctuary city,” leaders in many of California’s largest municipalities, including Los Angeles and Oakland, have repeatedly said they will not allow their local law enforcement officers to act as de facto immigration agents. 

The issue is a sore spot for many police executives, who have vowed not to honor ICE requests to detain suspected undocumented immigrants arrested for minor crimes, or question the immigration status of those who report crimes.

Doing so, some law enforcement leaders have argued, could serve to cripple trust between police officers and minority communities, a bond that already has been tested by increased scrutiny regarding police shootings around the country.

In Santa Clara, officials honored ICE requests until 2011, when requests for the reimbursement of detention costs were denied by the federal government, according to the lawsuit. 

Santa Clara claimed federal funding is critical for it to operate the county’s main hospital and public health department. Santa Clara Valley Medical Center receives nearly 70% of its annual operating budget from the federal government, while the county’s public health department relies on nearly $40 million in federal funding each year.

The suit contends that Trump’s threat to revoke federal funding is unconstitutional because it infringes on local government control and calls for a unilateral change to the terms of long-standing funding agreements.

“Congress cannot impose a condition that is so coercive that it amounts to ‘a gun to the head,’ leaving the state or local government with no real choice but to buckle to a federal demand,” the lawsuit reads.

Two cities in Massachusetts, Chelsea and Lawrence, also have sued Trump over the order. San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera said he is also considering a similar motion for immediate injunctive relief. 

“We are reviewing the motion for a preliminary injunction as we consider our next course of action. We share many of Santa Clara County’s concerns about the unlawfulness of this executive order and its harmful impacts on our city and residents, including seniors, children and low-income families,” he said. “Trying to punish communities for a widely embraced policy that has been shown to reduce crime and improve living standards makes no sense.” 

Times staff writer Dolan reported from San Francisco and Queally from Los Angeles. 

maura.dolan@latimes.com

Twitter: @mauradolan

james.queally@latimes.com

Twitter: @jamesqueallyLAT


UPDATES:

2:25 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from the county’s general counsel.

This article was originally published at 1:50 p.m.

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