Much to the delight of Connecticut Democrats, a Federal District Court judge in San Francisco on Tuesday issued a temporary injunction preventing President Donald Trump’s administration from withholding federal funds from localities that restrict their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.
The injunction applies nationwide and rules unconstitutional a key section of Trump’s January executive order on interior immigration enforcement. In his decision, the judge wrote that only Congress can impose conditions on federal funding for states. Although the ruling is only temporary, the San Francisco judge is expected to uphold it in his final decision on the executive order’s constitutionality.
The White House released a statement Tuesday calling the decision “egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge,” and chief of staff Reince Priebus told reporters that the administration would appeal the ruling.
In Connecticut, Democrats are celebrating the injunction, the latest in a series of judicial triumphs for opponents of Trump’s immigration policy. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., issued a statement on Tuesday applauding the ruling and condemning the President’s approach to immigration issues.
“This ruling reaffirms that Donald Trump’s executive order was an unconstitutional overreach, an attempt to bully local police into doing the bidding of federal agents,” Blumenthal said. “I call on President Trump to abandon his constitutionally defective and morally destructive immigration orders and commit to true, bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform.”
In a statement of his own on Tuesday, Gov. Dannel Malloy praised the decision for adhering to the “ample court precedent” regarding federal government’s ability to withhold funds from state and local jurisdictions. Malloy emphasized that Connecticut is complying with the federal laws mentioned in the executive order and thus not at risk of losing funding.
But according to Michael Wishnie ’87 LAW ’93, the director of Yale Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, the decision is consequential for Connecticut. In an email to the news, Wishnie wrote that the State of Connecticut, the City of Hartford and the Town of East Haven are all on the Department of Justice’s “naughty list” for refusing to enforce some detainers, which are requests for local police to hold detainees for an additional 48 hours after their release dates while federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement determines whether to take them into custody for removal.
New Haven, too, does not enforce some detainers, making it a potential target for federal funding cuts.
“Connecticut, Hartford, East Haven and New Haven had reason to be concerned,” Wishnie wrote. “This preliminary injunction should ease their concern.”
Wishnie also said that, unlike some of the earlier restraining orders on Trump’s executive orders, the injunction comes with no time limit. Although the legal battle may not be over, Wishnie added, that the court’s opinion is “detailed,” “thoughtful” and thus likely to be influential in other related cases.
Unidad Latina en Acción organizer Megan Fountain ’07 said the court’s ruling reaffirms the legality of sanctuary cities, adding that she thinks the decision will embolden Connecticut cities in their efforts to defend immigrants.
J.R. Romano, the Chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, was more skeptical of the ruling. While he acknowledged that the power of the purse lies with congress, he suggested the court’s ruling may not hold.
“The issue here is that judges are wrong all the time,” he said. “There’s also a group of judges in U.S. history that have ruled wrongly on race relations. You’re seeing a modern era where you have more activist judges — generally liberal judges — who believe that their ideology supersedes anything else.”
For Romano, the issue is above all one of public safety. Whether conditions for funding fall within the purview of the legislative or executive branch, he said, the primary obligation of the federal government is to protect its citizen.
If appealed, the case will go to the 9th Circuit Court, which ruled in February to uphold the restraining order on the first of the President’s two travel bans.