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DOJ Escalates Fight Against Sanctuary Laws with New Lawsuits Against States


The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday stepped up its fight against state and local governments that pass “sanctuary” immigration laws to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, filing separate lawsuits against New Jersey and Washington State.

Speaking at the National Sheriffs’ Association conference in Washington, D.C, Attorney General William Barr said the lawsuits marked a “significant escalation” in the Trump administration’s efforts to “confront” sanctuary policies, which restrict cooperation between federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement.

“These policies are not about people who came to our country illegally but have otherwise been peaceful and productive members of society,” Barr said. “Their express purpose is to shelter aliens whom local law enforcement has already arrested for other crimes.”

In its lawsuit against New Jersey, the DOJ is seeking to block a directive that limits information sharing between New Jersey law enforcement officers and federal immigration officials.

In King County, Washington, which includes the city of Seattle, the administration is asking the court to reject an executive order prohibiting immigration officials from using the county international airport in the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

The lawsuits are one of myriad ways the Trump administration has attempted to crack down on illegal immigration, and follows last week’s freeze on new enrollments and renewals in New York State’s “trusted traveler” Global Entry program.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said the Trump administration lawsuit was a political stunt aimed at President Donald Trump’s re-election.

“Once again, the Trump Administration is sacrificing public safety for political expedience,” Grewal said in a statement. “It’s no surprise that the President, facing re-election, has suddenly decided to challenge a policy we first announced in 2018. What’s disappointing is that my former colleagues at the Justice Department have agreed to go along with this election year stunt.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine similarly said the lawsuit was only aimed at “grabbing headlines.”

“We are already actively engaged in an administrative process with the FAA to resolve our differing interpretations,” Constantine said in a statement. “The Trump administration and Attorney General Barr chose to circumvent this work for the sake of grabbing headlines. The Justice Department initiated a legal fight over our regional airport rather than working with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We look forward to our day in court.”

The DOJ filed a similar lawsuit to block California’s sanctuary laws in 2018, but a federal judge ruled that the policies were “permissible exercises of California’s sovereign power.”

[image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty/Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.