Federal judge hears arguments over sanctuary city funding in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Protesters sounded off in San Francisco as a federal judge heard arguments for the first time on local lawsuits over President Donald Trump's executive order on sanctuary cities Friday morning.

Trump's order would withhold federal funding from local governments that his administration deems to be "sanctuary jurisdictions" that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation by federal authorities. San Francisco and Santa Clara County are among the plaintiffs.

RELATED: Santa Clara County asks federal judge to stop Trump's sanctuary city order

Those who are against President Trump's executive order think the hearing went well for them.

John Keker, representing Santa Clara County, argued to U.S. District Judge William Orrick at a San Francisco hearing that Trump's Jan. 25 order violates the Constitution and federal laws. "This unconstitutional order cannot be enforced, cannot be applied, and cannot exist consistent with law," he told the judge.

The federal government's defense surprised the opposition who think it was very weak.

Protesters gathered outside the courthouse before the hearing. They are worried that the president's executive order against sanctuary cities would strip Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties of nearly $3 billion in federal funding.

RELATED: San Leandro declares itself a sanctuary city

But, in a surprise move, U.S. Department of Justice attorney Chad Readler, defended the order and said it should be interpreted narrowly to refer only to "a limited range" of criminal justice grants awarded by the Justice Department and Homeland Security Department, and that only about $1 million in grants would be in danger.

Readler also contended there is no urgency for an injunction because the federal government has taken no actions to enforce the measure. "There's no enforcement action on the table," he said.

But Keker claimed those arguments are contradicted by the wording of the executive order and by a March 27 statement in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department will "take all lawful steps to claw back any funds awarded" to jurisdictions violating federal laws.

Keker said, "The government's argument boils down to a hope that the government and the attorney general won't do what they say they will in the executive order."

Readler contradicted what the president has said, and those fighting against him think this is a good sign.

"This last minute interpretation, it's not credible. In fact, I thought the federal government came off looking even more weak. They might have been better off just sitting silent," attorney Kerianne Steele said.

Keker said, "The government's argument boils down to a hope that the government and the attorney general won't do what they say they will in the executive order."

Those against the order told the judge not to rely on this interpretation, and that they can't just hope the Trump Administration would only take away a few grants. They asked the judge to put an injunction in place to protect the counties. The judge took it under advisement and will rule at a later time.

To read the latest stories about sanctuary cities and immigration, click here.

Bay City News contributed to this report.
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