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Months after issuing an ominous but little-heeded warning to “sanctuary jurisdictions,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently tightened the screws by announcing a new policy of withholding key federal law enforcement grants.
The move escalated the long-simmering feud that has pitted the Trump administration against sanctuary jurisdictions — hundreds of local communities across the country that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws.
The pushback came swiftly. On Monday, Chicago filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department, saying the policy flies “in the face of longstanding city policy that promotes cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.”
Other jurisdictions, including California, have also signaled that they will join in the fight.
But it appears unlikely that Hawaii will be on the front line of the high-stakes battle anytime soon.
“I’m really committed to working and doing everything I can to ensure the health and safety of our community,” Ige told the Civil Beat Editorial Board in June. “And I do believe that, in order for that to happen, there needs to be cooperation among federal, state and county law enforcement officers.”
“So, when we start talking about trying to establish arbitrary disconnects between law enforcement, I have a concern,” Ige said. “My priority is that they should be in constant communication on all matters, and we shouldn’t suddenly say, ‘Well, we’ll talk to you about this — but not about that because it’s a different issue.’ I think the safety is the common issue, and that’s what the focus should be.”
Ige’s stance is a blow to immigrant advocates, some of whom have been pushing for the Legislature to pass a bill next year to officially designate Hawaii as a sanctuary state.
“I’m extremely disappointed by (Ige’s) lack of awareness of how beneficial being a sanctuary state would be for all the residents of Hawaii — not only the ones who would be directly affected by Trump’s actions,” said Nandita Sharma, an organizer with Hawaii J20, a local group formed in response to Trump’s rise to power. “I’m disappointed and surprised that the governor is unable to see that.”
The latest dispute in the Trump administration’s crusade against sanctuary jurisdictions is over whether it can attach specific conditions to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, the largest pot of federal funds that supports local law enforcement efforts.
Under the Justice Department’s policy, effective Sept. 5, the funds will only be available to jurisdictions that agree to give U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement full access to local correctional facilities and provide a 48-hour notice before releasing anyone suspected of an immigration violation.
Hanging in the balance is an estimated $384 million in new grants that local law enforcement agencies will use to procure items such as police cars, radios and equipment for SWAT teams.
Last year, Chicago received $2.3 million in the Byrne JAG funds. In Hawaii, the grants amounted to a total of nearly $1.5 million for the state and four counties.
But Chicago’s lawsuit alleges that the grant conditions are unlawful and violate the Constitution.
The Trump administration “may not unilaterally concoct and import into the Byrne JAG program sweeping new policy conditions that were never approved (and indeed were considered and rejected) by Congress and that would federalize local jails and police stations, mandate warrantless detentions in order to investigate for federal civil infractions, sow fear in local immigrant communities, and ultimately make the people of Chicago less safe,” the lawsuit alleges.
At its core, the legal dispute stems from two differing visions of public safety.
On the one hand, the Trump administration has long argued that sanctuary jurisdictions like Chicago are endangering their residents by allowing immigrants to commit crimes with impunity.
Sessions’ scathing response to Chicago’s lawsuit on Monday encapsulated the Trump administration’s argument: Chicago’s elected officials, he wrote in a statement, “have demonstrated an open hostility to enforcing laws designed to protect law enforcement — federal, state and local — and reduce crime and instead have adopted an official policy of protecting criminal aliens who prey on their own residents.”
On the other hand, sanctuary jurisdictions counter that the Trump administration’s “latest unlawful misguided action” — as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel put it — is exactly what leads to mistrust in policing and ultimately undermines public safety.
“We want you to come to Chicago if you believe in the American dream,” Emanuel told CNN. “By forcing us, or the police department, to choose between the values of the city and the philosophy of the police department, in community policing, I think it’s a false choice and it undermines our actual safety agenda.”
Chicago is by no means the first sanctuary jurisdiction to defy the Trump administration.
In April, two California counties — San Francisco and Santa Clara — won an injunction against a broader effort by the Trump administration to deny federal funds to sanctuary jurisdictions. Others — Seattle and Richmond, California, among them — have also filed lawsuits.
In Hawaii, the Honolulu City Council adopted a resolution in April, declaring the city as “a haven of aloha.” A month earlier at the Legislature, House lawmakers adopted House Resolution 76, declaring the state “a hookipa (welcoming) state.”
But advocates are hoping for more: a bill both at state and county levels to make sanctuary policies binding.
“We intend to meet with as many legislators as we can in the House and the Senate before the legislative session begins so that we lay the groundwork for the support,” Sharma said. “In an election year, our goal is to make this into a positive for them rather than their perception right now that it’s a potential negative.
Sharma says J20’s lobbying effort will continue, despite Ige’s opposition.
“If everyone else was supportive of such an action, and Gov. Ige is willing to kill it and he wants that on his shoulders, then so be it,” Sharma said. “People can then make an opinion one way or another whether they continue to support the governor.”