Justice Department, West Palm Beach settle dispute over immigration laws

The Justice Department and the city of West Palm Beach, Fla., have reached a settlement in a legal dispute over the city's immigration policies, the department said Tuesday.

West Palm Beach was one of 23 jurisdictions flagged by the Justice Department in January as having policies in place that stymie cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.

The city responded to that move by filing a lawsuit pressing the federal government to acknowledge that West Palm Beach had not violated federal law. 

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The settlement requires the city to send a memo to its employees saying that its policies do not preclude local officials from sharing information with the Department of Homeland Security. 

In turn, the Justice Department said it will notify the city that there is no evidence that it is not complying with Section 1373, a federal law promoting cooperation between local and federal law enforcement agencies.

In a letter sent to 23 jurisdictions in January, the Justice Department demanded documents proving that local laws comply with federal immigration policies, and threatened to withhold grant money from jurisdictions that decline to share information with federal immigration officials.

The decision to target West Palm Beach hinged on a resolution adopted last year that declares it a "welcoming city" for immigrants, and bars city employees from helping with federal immigration investigations.

The settlement between the Justice Department and West Palm Beach comes weeks after the Trump administration sued California over its so-called sanctuary laws, which the Justice Department says undermines the work of federal immigration officials. 

An administration official said Tuesday that West Palm Beach agreed to settle to avoid an unfavorable court ruling.

"Since the Trump Administration sued California for their sanctuary policies, California jurisdictions are tripping over themselves to create distance from Governor Brown’s dangerous policies, and now West Palm Beach is instructing its employees to cooperate with ICE in order to avoid a loss in the courts," the official said.

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio rejected that notion, telling The Hill in an interview on Tuesday that the city was confident that a judge would have ultimately ruled in its favor, and that it was the federal government that capitulated with the settlement.

“We felt like we were on good grounds to win the lawsuit,” she said. “We didn’t capitulate because we thought we were going to lose.”

Muoio argued that West Palm Beach’s resolution never violated federal law, because it is not the city’s job to collect immigration information. The memo sent to city employees on Tuesday simply reiterated an existing policy that personnel must comply with state and federal law, she said.

“We don’t collect immigration information,” she said. “We never have and we will not. That’s the purview of the federal government.”