U.S. News

Los Angeles seeks to join lawsuit over U.S. sanctuary policies

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The city of Los Angeles on Tuesday sought to join a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice over federal restrictions on some law enforcement grants to so-called sanctuary cities, according to a court filing.

FILE PHOTO: The downtown skyline is pictured in Los Angeles, California U.S., August 24, 2016. Picture taken using long shutter exposure. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The state of California and city of San Francisco earlier this month filed legal challenges that accused the administration of President Donald Trump of improperly trying to force local jurisdictions to enforce national immigration law by imposing funding conditions.

In proposed legal claims filed in Northern California federal court, attorneys for Los Angeles called the Justice Department’s proposals “unconstitutional on their face.” A judge would have to approve Los Angeles’ request to intervene in the existing San Francisco lawsuit.

Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said it is “baffling” the city would challenge policies designed to keep residents safer, given that violent crime has risen in Los Angeles since 2014.

Violent crime has gone up in the past three years, but it is still well below historical levels. In 1992, some 1,094 people were killed in the city, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics. In 2016, the Los Angeles Police Department reported 294 homicides.

Trump issued a broad executive order in January targeting wide swaths of federal funding for cities that generally offer illegal immigrants safe harbor by declining to use municipal resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

A San Francisco judge, however, drastically limited the scope of that policy in a previous lawsuit filed by the city of San Francisco.

The Justice Department then sought to impose conditions on a national grant for local law enforcement that mandates access to local jails for federal immigration officials as well as 48 hours’ notice before releasing anyone wanted for immigration violations.

Sanctuary cities generally offer safe harbor to illegal immigrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

The city of Chicago has also filed a lawsuit challenging the Justice Department’s funding conditions, which last week drew the ire of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The Trump administration contends that local authorities endanger public safety when they decline to hand over for deportation illegal immigrants arrested for crimes.

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson in a statement called the city “a beacon of light for the rest of the country because we do not compromise our values, regardless of what the federal government demands.”

Editing by G Crosse and Matthew Lewis