A federal judge on Tuesday blocked President Donald Trump from cutting funds to local governments that provide “sanctuary” to immigration violators, citing Miami-Dade County as an example of a community responding to the financial threat.
The temporary injunction by a San Francisco judge prevents Trump from following through with a Jan. 25 order that threatened funding cuts but hasn’t delivered any.
The day after Trump’s order, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez overturned county policy and directed local jails to accept all detention requests from immigration authorities. The county began refusing the requests in 2013, but Gimenez cited Trump’s funding threat as too serious for Miami-Dade to ignore.
Other cities and counties with “sanctuary” policies pushed back, calling Trump’s threat an abuse of power. When San Francisco sued, lawyers for the federal government downplayed the president’s order as more of a policy statement than an actual mechanism for denying federal funds.
In issuing his injunction, Judge William Orrick pointed to Gimenez’s action — and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s praise of the mayor — as a signal that the president’s threat was real.
“Spicer cited favorably the actions of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez,” Orrick wrote. “Lauding Miami-Dade’s actions, Spicer noted that Miami-Dade ‘understand[s] the importance of this order and encouraged other jurisdictions to follow his lead.”
Gimenez’s brief appearance on Page 24 of the 49-page court order marked the Cuban-born Republican’s latest supporting role in a national drama over Trump’s immigration policies. Trump himself tweeted “Strong!” after Gimenez announced his policy change on immigration “detainers,” and the decision brought national attention to Miami-Dade as the first “sanctuary” community to heed Trump’s warning.
The issue highlighted Gimenez’s personal ties to the new president: They golfed together as Trump launched a bid to take over a county golf course in 2014, and one of Gimenez’s sons was a local lobbyist for the real estate magnate. Even so, Gimenez, facing reelection in heavily-Democratic Miami-Dade, backed Hillary Clinton last fall.
Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández noted the bipartisan Miami-Dade Commission, which set the original 2013 detention policy, voted to endorse the mayor’s actions in February, despite significant protests from immigration activists and local Democratic leaders.
“Mayor Gimenez made the correct decision to protect Miami-Dade County from potentially losing federal dollars,” Hernández said. “A majority of the county commission agreed.”
Tuesday’s court decision temporarily blocks Trump from acting on his funding threat.
The government has never released a full list of jurisdictions it considers “sanctuary” communities, but the Obama Justice Department last year tallied nearly 160 state and local governments that don’t fully honor detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Miami-Dade was included on that list.
Local critics accused Gimenez of acting too hastily in the face of Trump’s threat, arguing his order couldn’t be enforced and that the detention requests themselves were unconstitutional.
“I think the judge articulated what we all already knew, which is that Trump’s executive order was unconstitutional,” said Juan Cuba, chairman of Miami-Dade’s Democratic Party. “It’s deeply unfortunate that our county leadership rushed into overturning our policy just to impress the new Trump administration.”
The detention requests ask local jails to hold someone up to an extra 48 hours, plus holidays and weekends, to give immigration authorities longer to apprehend them. Since the requests are triggered when someone is fingerprinted, the detentions apply only to people booked in a jail on local charges unrelated to immigration offenses.
Gimenez noted Miami-Dade’s old policy allowed detentions for serious offenders if Washington agreed to reimburse the county for extra incarceration expenses, and described accepting the requests as an incremental change.
Trump’s original order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” instructed the Justice Department and Homeland Security to ensure that “sanctuary jurisdictions … are not eligible to received Federal grants” beyond those needed for law enforcement.
San Francisco and the California county of Santa Clara sued Trump, arguing the order exceeded presidential authority by trying to rewrite grant formulas and other spending decisions properly made by Congress.
Administration lawyers countered that the suit was hasty, since Washington has not formally named any sanctuary jurisdictions for sanctions. And they argued plaintiffs were wrongly equating the order with an actual trigger to strip funding, rather than Trump exercising his “ ‘bully pulpit’ to highlight a changed approach to immigration enforcement,” Orrick wrote.
Orrick rejected that contention, saying Trump’s order represented a real threat — and one that the president did not have the authority to make.
Plaintiffs “have a well-founded fear of enforcement under the Executive Order,” Orrick wrote. The “mere existence and threatened enforcement” of the order is causing “injury in the form of budget uncertainty.”
The judge wrote the Trump administration, in attempting to defend the order, argued it really only applies to a few Justice and Homeland Security grants whose requirements already require jurisdictions to share certain immigration-status information with Washington when requested. Orrick rejected that argument, but agreed that the Trump administration was free to enforce those provisions of the grants.
“It is heartening that the Government’s lawyers recognize that the Order cannot do more constitutionally than enforce existing law,” he wrote. But he added there was no doubt that Trump wanted more from the order.
“The President has called it ‘a weapon’ to use against jurisdictions that disagree with his preferred policies of immigration enforcement,” Orrick wrote.
Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.