LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Department of Justice cannot force local police departments to cooperate with immigration agents as a condition for receiving federal funding for a law enforcement program, a judge in Los Angeles ruled this week.
The permanent, nationwide ban against the funding rules delivered an unambiguous victory to Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer in the legal battle he opened last year with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Feuer filed a lawsuit in federal court in September, claiming Sessions had overreached his authority and crossed constitutional lines when the Justice Department changed the terms for the Community Oriented Policing Services program.
"This is a complete victory," Feuer said at a news event Thursday, flanked by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. "This is yet another dagger in the heart of the administration's efforts to use federal funds as a weapon to make local jurisdictions complicit in its civil immigration enforcement policies."
For years, police departments around the country have applied to the DOJ grant for money to bolster their community policing programs, which are focused on building stronger ties and trust with communities instead of traditional law-and-order enforcement.
Los Angeles routinely applies for funds through the program and received $3.125 million in 2016, which helped hire 25 officers, according to Feuer's office.
But last year the rules for how funds would be awarded included a new caveat: Police departments that cooperated with immigration agents on identifying and apprehending jail inmates believed to be in the country illegally would be viewed more favorably.
Police departments seeking some of the $98 million pool of grant money were asked to demonstrate that they alert immigration agents before releasing jail inmates and give immigration agents jail access in order to conduct inmate interviews and review files. Los Angeles, which refused to abide by the new rules, was not awarded any money from the $98 million pool.
In issuing his ruling, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real agreed with Feuer that the new funding rules violated the separation of powers laid out in the nation's Constitution.
Real found the funding conditions were an improper attempt to force local police to participate in immigration enforcement, which is the job of the federal government. The move, Real found, "upset the constitutional balance between state and federal power by requiring state and local law enforcement to partner with federal authorities."
They also crossed the authority given to Congress, not the executive branch, to control government spending, Real said.
As a result, Los Angeles and other cities that refused to adhere to the funding rules were put at a disadvantage and would be handicapped again in future years.
The remedy, Real concluded, was to issue the permanent injunction against the Justice Department.