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Court upholds ruling, blocks Trump administration in sanctuary cities case

A mural voicing support for immigrants is painted along a retail strip in Chicago's predominantly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood. The U.S. Justice Department has accursed four cities — Chicago, New York, New Orleans and Philadelphia — of violating the law with their 'sanctuary city" policies. | Getty Images

Declaring the United States a country that “jealously guards the separation of powers,” a federal appeals court in Chicago on Thursday dealt the Trump Administration a new blow in its ongoing feud with sanctuary cities.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld in a 35-page opinion a nationwide injunction stopping Attorney General Jeff Sessions from applying new conditions to grant money to force cities to cooperate with immigration authorities.

Appellate Judge Ilana Rovner made clear in the opinion the court’s role was “not to assess the optimal immigration policies for our country.” However, she wrote that “the issue before us strikes at one of the bedrock principles of our nation” — the separation of powers.

“The Attorney General in this case used the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement,” Rovner wrote. “But the power of the purse rests with Congress, which authorized the federal funds at issue and did not impose any immigration enforcement condition on the receipt of such funds.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed victory over the Trump administration — again — at a City Hall news conference flanked by City Clerk Anna Valencia, a diverse group of aldermen, community activists and immigrant groups across the city.

“This many people, something good has happened,” the mayor crowed.

“From Day One, we were not gonna allow the Trump Justice Department to either  bully or intimidate the city of Chicago off of its values. This is our second opinion now … that reaffirms that Chicago was right.”

The mayor noted that the judges who have ruled against the Trump administration were all appointed by Republican presidents.

“We, as a city, will stand our ground when it comes to…immigrants from all parts of the world who come to this city, struggle and sacrifice to make sure their kids have a better life. They came here because they believe in what America and more importantly for me also, what the city of Chicago has to offer,” he said.

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement that the DOJ “believes it exercised its authority.”

“Many in the legal community have expressed concern that the use of nationwide injunctions is inconsistent with the separation of powers, and that their increased use creates a dangerous precedent,” O’Malley said. “We will continue to fight to carry out the Department’s commitment to the rule of law, protecting public safety, and keeping criminal aliens off the streets to further perpetrate crimes.”

Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel said there is “nothing that currently prevents” the Justice Department from distributing 2017 public safety grant funds to Chicago and other major cities that have applied for and received those funds on an annual basis.

The grant at issue is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, used by local governments for law enforcement needs like police cruisers, body cameras and community programs aimed at reducing violence.

The appellate court upheld the nationwide scope of the injunction first ordered in September by U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber in Chicago. Appellate Judge Daniel Manion wrote a 14-page opinion mostly agreeing with his colleagues but insisting Leinenweber went too far when he applied his ruling across the country.

“We are not the Supreme Court, and we should not presume to decide legal issues for the whole country,” Manion wrote.

Chicago sued Sessions in August over the new conditions tied to the Byrne grant. One of them would require the city to give the feds, when requested, a 48-hour heads up of the scheduled release date and time “of an alien in the jurisdiction’s custody.” Another requires federal access to “any correctional or detention facility in order to meet with an alien … and inquire as to his or her right to be or remain in the United States.”

The lawsuit is part of an ongoing war of words between Emanuel and Sessions, who responded to the lawsuit by blasting a “culture of lawlessness that has beset” Chicago.

In January, the Justice Department demanded records from Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois that could show whether officials here and in 20 other governments across the nation are unlawfully refusing to share information with federal immigration authorities.

Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins said at the time the city would deliver the requested documents to the DOJ. But he said the city would place Leinenweber’s injunction order on top.

He said that it “proves that we’re right legally, because we already know that we’re right morally.”