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Justice Department asks Supreme Court to dismiss 'sanctuary city immigration suits

In a letter seeking to end the suits, the Justice Department indicated it will stop pressuring cities to turn over information about noncitizens.
People rally in support of immigrants' rights in downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 12, 2019.
People rally in support of immigrants' rights in downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 12, 2019.Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to dismiss three lawsuits over a Trump-era immigration policy that led some areas to declare themselves "sanctuary cities."

The policy was part of an effort to get police departments to tell federal authorities when noncitizens were about to be released from custody.

In what began half-heartedly under former President Barack Obama and ratcheted up under former President Donald Trump, the Justice Department sought to withhold federal grants from local governments that refused to tell immigration agents when people in their custody were about to be released. The government also wanted access to local jails so immigration agents could question noncitizens in custody.

In brief letters to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department said the cases should be dismissed, indicating that the government will no longer seek to enforce the policy.

The Trump administration was at odds with many major cities over federal detainer requests, issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, asking police and sheriff's offices to hold jail inmates for up to 48 hours after they had completed their sentences. The requests applied to people in the U.S. illegally who had been convicted of committing local crimes and could be deported after they were released.

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After federal courts blocked the effort, the Justice Department instead sought to be given notice before noncitizens were released, spawning a new round of lawsuits.

Several lower federal courts said local officials had no duty to help immigration agents enforce federal law, and some states and cities passed what are known as sanctuary laws expressly forbidding police to provide information about noncitizens in their custody. Supporters said the laws make communities safer by encouraging undocumented victims of crime to cooperate with police.