The ruling marks the first time that a federal appeals court has weighed in on the fight between state and local governments — many of them run by Democrats — and the Trump administration over how much local police must help federal agents capture suspected undocumented immigrants. A similar case is pending in federal courts in California.
In the Chicago case, the judges found that Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrongly tried to assume a power that belongs to Congress — the ability to grant or withhold federal funds.
“The power of the purse rests with Congress, which authorized the federal funds at issue and did not impose any immigration enforcement conditions on the receipt of such funds,” the judges wrote.
Trump and other conservatives who have pushed for a crackdown on undocumented immigrants have used the term sanctuary cities to describe jurisdictions that don’t notify federal immigration agents when they have taken into custody possible undocumented aliens unless they have some reason to think the person poses a threat to public safety, such as an outstanding felony warrant.
The term sanctuary cities, the judges wrote, “is commonly misunderstood.” Chicago “does not interfere in any way with the federal government’s lawful pursuit of its civil immigration activities, and presence in such localities will not immunize anyone to the reach of the federal government. . . . The federal government can and does freely operate in ‘sanctuary’ localities.”
The ruling also criticized Sessions’s description of the dispute, saying he “repeatedly characterizes the issue as whether localities can be allowed to thwart federal law enforcement. That is a red herring. First, nothing in this case involves any affirmative interference with federal law enforcement at all, nor is there any interference whatsoever with federal immigration authorities.”
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said the agency does not agree that it assumed a funding power belonging to Congress.
“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.”
The decision wasn’t a complete defeat for the administration — one of the judges, Daniel A. Manion, sided with the Trump administration’s opposition to a lower court judge issuing a nationwide injunction covering the entire United States, rather than a ruling that would apply only to the Chicago area.
“An injunction, particularly a preliminary injunction, is an extreme remedy,” Manion wrote. “A nationwide preliminary injunction is more extreme still. One should only be issued where it is absolutely necessary, and it is far from absolutely necessary here.”