Department of Justice Suing Washington State, New Jersey Over “Sanctuary Laws”

Attorney General William Barr announced the lawsuits on Monday over policies he considers in opposition to federal immigration law.

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The Department of Justice is suing state and local governments in New Jersey and Washington State over so-called “sanctuary laws.”

In two complaints filed in federal court, the Justice Department took aim at a New Jersey policy that limits how state and local authorities can share information with federal immigration officials, as well as an order from Washington State's King County, where Seattle is located, that prevents feds from using an international airport there for deportations, the Washington Post reported.

Justice Department officials have argued that the local and state laws are unconstitutional and obstruct the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration policy.

Attorney General William Barr announced the lawsuits on Monday before a conference of county sheriffs in Washington, D.C. The announcement fits into the Trump administration’s broader crackdown on immigration, which as of January, also included new visa rules for pregnant women.

At the conference, Barr said some state and local politicians do “everything they can to impede federal law enforcement.”

“The politicians who have established sanctuary jurisdictions apparently believe it is more important to help criminal aliens evade the law than it is to protect the safety of law-abiding individuals,” he added.

In response to the lawsuit, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in a statement that the Trump administration is “sacrificing public safety for political expedience.”

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

The King County Executive Dow Contantine also responded to the lawsuit in a statement.

“It is no surprise that Trump and Barr are bullying King County for being a welcoming community that respects the rights of all people. Our ordinances rightly require that King County facilitate immigration enforcement directives only when accompanied by a valid court order,” Contantine said. “Mass deportations raise deeply troubling human rights concerns, including separation of families, racial disproportionality in policing, and constitutional issues of due process.”

Since Trump took office, his administration has threatened “sanctuary cities” through moves like funding withdrawal, though district judges have largely blocked the President’s executive orders. In January 2017, so-called sanctuary cities took on a renewed urgency as havens after the administration’s Muslim ban targeted immigrants from countries including Syria. Over the past few years, most of these cities have been able to retain grants.

In 2018, the DOJ sued California over three “sanctuary” laws, alleging that the state violated the Constitution. A federal appeals court rejected the government’s attempt to block the laws. Despite that verdict, the Justice Department is hoping "the Supreme Court will grant our request to review the remaining issues and side with us against California’s obstructionist policies," Barr said Monday. Separately, the Department is suing the state over a law that bans private prisons.