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Mass. cities hail ruling blocking sanctuary city retaliation

“We are encouraged by the District Court’s ruling,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone (above).

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2017

“We are encouraged by the District Court’s ruling,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone (above).

A judge in California on Tuesday temporarily blocked President Trump’s plan to withhold funding from so-called sanctuary cities, a ruling that won praise from elected officials and immigrant rights activists in Massachusetts.

The 49-page order from US District Judge William Orrick was a temporary ruling in a lawsuit targeting the president’s executive order, signed in January, to hold back funds for cities that limit their cooperation with US immigration authorities. Orrick’s order will remain in place while the civil action brought by San Francisco and Santa Clara counties is pending.

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The judge wrote that federal funding that “bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves.’’

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who previously pledged to shelter immigrants in Boston City Hall if necessary to fight Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, praised Orrick’s order in a statement.

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“Today’s injunction shows that Boston, along with other cities and towns from across the nation, will not be intimidated by threats to federal funding because we have the Constitution on our side,” Walsh said. “In Boston, there is no dollar amount that would ever change our essential character of inclusiveness of all people.”

Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, another vocal critic of Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities, welcomed Orrick’s ruling in a brief statement of his own.

“We are encouraged by the District Court’s ruling, and as one of a number of cities nationally that signed an amicus brief in support of the Santa Clara lawsuit, we’ll be paying close attention to how this continues to proceed through the courts,” Curtatone said.

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His city was one of several communities in Massachusetts that the Department of Homeland Security recently cited as jurisdictions that have enacted policies that limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Other communities on the ICE list included Boston, Cambridge, Northampton, and Amherst.

Orrick’s order Tuesday was the latest legal blow to the Trump White House on the immigration front. A federal appeals court previously blocked his proposed travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, and a revised version has also stalled in court.

The Trump administration has defended the order on sanctuary cities as a way to keep dangerous criminals off the street and protect national security.

On Tuesday night, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said the ruling was “another example of how the Ninth Circuit went bananas,” referring to the appellate jurisdiction where the case was heard. Orrick does not actually sit on the Ninth Circuit appeals court.

Priebus predicted the ruling would be overturned.

The Department of Justice, reflecting the administration’s objection to the latest legal setback, said Tuesday that it will enforce existing conditions on federal grants that require compliance with the law that forbids communities from blocking reports on people’s immigration status to federal authorities.

In January, Trump signed an executive order that said federal funding could be denied to any jurisdiction that refused to hand over unauthorized immigrants for deportation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later elaborated, speaking about withholding Department of Justice grants, which are expected to total more than $4.1 billion this year.

There is no official definition of a sanctuary city, but in general, such municipalities do not allow their police departments to help ICE detain and deport immigrants.

Many officials in Massachusetts communities with large numbers of immigrants, including Curtatone, Walsh, and Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, have defended their cities’ enforcement practices in the face of possible funding cuts.

The Boston-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which represents Lawrence and Chelsea in a related federal lawsuit in Massachusetts, also praised Orrick’s ruling on Tuesday.

“Sanctuary policies reflect the local judgment that communities are more safe when local police are not entangled in federal immigration enforcement,” the Lawyers’ Committee said in a statement.

Rivera could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night.

Trump tweeted earlier Tuesday that he remained steadfast on another hot-button immigration policy — his plan to build a wall along the US border with Mexico.

“Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL,” Trump tweeted. “It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.”

The Trump administration has said his executive order on sanctuary cities is also aimed at fighting crime. Sessions asserted in March that in one week there had been more than 200 instances of jurisdictions refusing to honor ICE detainer requests, including in cases where people had been charged with crimes such as murder and sexual offenses against children.

But Gorrick wrote in his order Tuesday that Trump’s executive order runs afoul of the Constitution.

“The defunding provision is entirely inconsistent with law in its stated purpose and directives because it instructs the Attorney General and the Secretary to do something that only Congress has the authority to do — place new conditions on federal funds,” Gorrick wrote.

He added that the president “does not have the power to place conditions on federal funds and so cannot delegate this power.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Maria Cramer of the Globe Staff contributed. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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