DOJ Sues Sanctuary Jurisdictions in Escalated Battle Over Immigration Enforcement

By Shani Saxon Feb 11, 2020

On February 10, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed lawsuits against California, New Jersey and Washington state as part of the Trump administration’s ongoing battle against sanctuary laws, which allow jurisdictions to limit cooperation with federal immigration officers, The New York Times reports. DOJ officials argue that these laws are “unconstitutional” and prevent the federal government from enforcing immigration laws. 

Attorney General William Barr announced the lawsuits on Monday while speaking at the National Sheriffs’ Association conference in Washington, D.C. “These policies are not about people who came to our country illegally but have otherwise been peaceful and productive members of society,” Barr said, according to The Times. “Their express purpose is to shelter aliens whom local law enforcement has already arrested for other crimes.”

Reports The Times:

Such laws passed by local and state governments generally restrict whether and how the local police shares information with the federal authorities about a person’s immigration status. Five states, as well as counties in nearly 30 states, have enacted them.


The department has used several tools to punish state and local governments that enact these laws, including withholding grant money.

Monday’s lawsuit singled out the state of California, Governor Gavin Newsom and State Attorney General Xavier Becerra for adhering to a state law which “interfered with the work of federal immigration authorities,” according to The Times. 

The agency also sued the state of New Jersey, Governor Philip D. Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal “over an enforcement directive issued by Grewal that prohibits state officials from sharing information about the immigration statuses of people in the custody of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” The Times reports. 

In a statement to The Times, Grewal referred to the DOJ’s lawsuit as an “election-year stunt” that “sacrifices public safety for political expedience.”

“Thankfully, nothing about today’s lawsuit changes our work on the ground,” Grewal’s statement added. “While the president grandstands, we’re focused on protecting the nine million residents of New Jersey.”

The DOJ also sued King County, Washington, and County Executive Dow Constantine for "challenging an executive order that prevents Immigration and Customs Enforcement contractors from using King County International Airport to transport or remove detainees," according to The Times. 

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who is also a former United States attorney in Washington state, spoke to the Times about what she believes will amount to a big loss for the DOJ:

Ms. Durkan said that when she was the top federal prosecutor in the area, the office focused on fighting crime including human trafficking, gun violence and homegrown terrorism, suggesting that those were higher priorities than helping facilitate deportations. She said Seattle would continue to work with other local governments and federal officials on those issues.

Barr insisted on Monday that the federal government has the "sole authority to make and enforce immigration law" per the U.S. Constitution. Critics, however, believe the government’s hardline approach to immigration will only further discourage immigrants of undocumented status from cooperating with authorities. “Conflating immigration and crime is false and unproductive,” said Kelsey Nyland, a spokesperson for Mayor Durkan, in a statement to The Times. “Prosecutors need witnesses who feel safe working with authorities to help them understand what happened. What the Justice Department is doing now will push those potential witnesses into the shadows.”