N.J. looks to recover $4M in 'sanctuary city' fight with Trump

New Jersey's attorney general on Wednesday waded into another battle between President Donald Trump and left-leaning states, signing onto a federal lawsuit looking to pry loose money being withheld from "sanctuary cities."

The suit claims the Trump administration violated federal law by placing conditions on a law enforcement grant program requiring police departments that get federal dollars cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In July, the Justice Department announced it was placing the new condition on recipients of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance program, which provides hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to state and local police.

New Jersey has received more than $4 million annually through the program, with more than $3 million going to local police departments to pay for anything from community policing programs to efforts combatting gangs, sexual assault or elder abuse.

Local governments across the country have long opted to limit coordinating with federal immigration officials, arguing that such cooperation marginalizes undocumented immigrants and can discourage victims and witnesses from coming forward.

In New Jersey, local governments in Newark, Jersey City, East Orange, Maplewood and elsewhere have formally declared support for undocumented residents. 

Supporters of Trump's tough immigration policies say "sanctuary cities" -- a loose term for local governments that look to shield undocumented immigrants from federal authorities -- are breaking the law.

The city of Chicago first filed the lawsuit in August, claiming that federal law allows state and local governments to decide for themselves whether to cooperate with immigration enforcement. Attorneys general in 15 other states later joined the suit, but New Jersey stayed on the sidelines until the end of Gov. Chris Christie's tenure.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal -- who was brought on by Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat and vocal Trump critic -- called the restrictions on federal funds "illegal" and "counterproductive."

"As a former county prosecutor, I've seen firsthand that you can fight crime while also treating our immigrant communities with dignity and respect," Grewal, the former top law enforcement official in Bergen County, said in a statement.

A federal judge last fall issued an injunction ordering the Justice Department to cease withholding the funds, but the Trump administration appealed.

Grewal's office said Wednesday New Jersey's share was "currently frozen due to the pending litigation." 

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