'Sanctuary cities' faced off with the Trump administration in court for the first time

A federal judge heard arguments in San Francisco on Friday in the first legal challenges to President Donald Trump’s executive order cracking down on so-called “sanctuary” cities.

Lawyers representing San Francisco and Santa Clara County had urged US District Judge William Orrick to grant a preliminary injunction blocking the order, arguing that it violates jurisdictions’ 10th Amendment rights and could deprive them of billions of dollars in federal funding.

But a lawyer representing the Trump administration argued on Friday that the scope of the order was “narrow,” would apply “only to a limited range of grants,” and would affect possibly none of San Francisco’s funding and less than $US1 million for Santa Clara County, the Associated Press reported.

The argument prompted Orrick to question what the point was of Trump’s executive order if the funding at stake was so minimal. The Trump administration’s lawyer Chad Readler replied that the order was essentially a “bully pulpit” meant to emphasise an issue Trump cares deeply about.

Orrick said he will try to issue a ruling as soon as possible, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Trump’s order, signed Jan. 25, declared it would withhold federal grant money from jurisdictions that violated federal immigration law, prompting some cities and counties to fret over police department budgets.

At the heart of San Francisco and Santa Clara County’s lawsuits is the question of what the term “sanctuary city” even means. No legal definition exists, but the term is generally used to describe jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities in identifying and deporting immigrants.

The Trump administration, however, appears to have defined the term in the executive order as a jurisdiction that refuses to comply with a federal law, 8 USC Section 1373, prohibiting government entities from obstructing information on individuals’ citizenship or immigration statuses.

Since most so-called sanctuary cities — including San Francisco and those in Santa Clara County — say they already fully comply with this law, it’s unclear whether they would be targeted for federal grant funding cuts, even if those cuts were minimal.

Lawyers representing San Francisco and Santa Clara County argued on Friday that the Trump administration is now trying to newly interpret the order to save it from being blocked by the courts.

“The government argument boils down to the hope that President Trump and Attorney General Sessions won’t do what they are saying they are going to do with this executive order,” Santa Clara County’s lawyer John Keker said.

“It’s a gun to your head. It exists right now in Santa Clara and in San Francisco and, we think, all around the country.”

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