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San Francisco City Attorney On Sanctuary City Ruling: 'We Should All Feel Vindicated'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

San Francisco is celebrating a legal victory over President Trump. The administration had threatened to withhold federal money from places like San Francisco that it says do not comply with its immigration policies. A federal judge yesterday stopped the administration from enforcing its order on what's known as sanctuary cities, saying it would do, quote, "irreparable harm." We'll hear about President Trump's reaction in a moment.

But first, San Francisco's city attorney is on the line. Dennis Herrera, welcome to the program.

DENNIS HERRERA: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So this ruling partially validates San Francisco's status as a so-called sanctuary city. To what extent do you feel vindicated?

HERRERA: I think that we should all feel vindicated because what happened here was that the rule of law prevailed. The separation of powers in the Constitution was validated. And as a result, billions and billions of dollars are being saved that can go for vital services for residents across the country. So we're very gratified by the court's ruling.

CORNISH: At the same time, the ruling also left room for this administration to come up with a legal definition for the term sanctuary - right? - a sanctuary jurisdiction. How do you define it?

HERRERA: It is certainly true that the door was left open for there to be some enforcement pursuant to laws and grant requirements that already exist but the options available to the administration were dramatically constrained. And you are absolutely correct that a sanctuary city has encompassed a broad cross-section of jurisdictions that define them in a different way. Six hundred jurisdictions across the country have some form of sanctuary city status.

For us, what it means is that we protect communities in order to ensure that we're promoting the cooperation between law enforcement and communities that keep our streets safe and that our local government and police departments and sheriff's departments are not going to be utilized in a way where they become federal immigration officers that threaten that relationship. That doesn't serve anybody.

CORNISH: But if it is defined, as you said, it could make it easier for the federal government to make an evaluation to say what they're doing does not fit the requirements to hold onto grant money and they can take it away. I mean, is that trouble for you ahead?

HERRERA: For us here in San Francisco, it's not trouble because we already comply with 8 USC 1373, which is the federal statute that the executive order was based on. We make sure that we tell our employees here in the city and county of San Francisco that they have to cooperate with the federal government in terms of providing immigration status but we don't have to go further.

And even if we did not, the federal funding that could be threatened amounts now to only about $1.5 million as compared to the open-ended possibilities that existed when the president first announced his executive order and there was no definition at all about what federal money was at stake.

CORNISH: The city has said in the past that roughly $2 billion in federal funds could have been at stake.

HERRERA: That's correct.

CORNISH: And now you're saying that has dropped dramatically under this ruling?

HERRERA: Yeah, absolutely. It really could have opened up $2 billion of our $10 billion budget to being threatened but that number has been dramatically reduced.

CORNISH: You sound confident that you would not be in conflict of federal law, so then what's the concern with what the Trump administration is doing?

HERRERA: Well, because - but for our lawsuit, there is no doubt that that executive order would have been used as a hammer and a threat to force local police officials and law enforcement officials to become federal immigration officers. And that goes beyond what the Constitution allows.

CORNISH: If and when there's an appeal by this administration, how far are you willing to go to fight it?

HERRERA: As far as we need to go. We're going to stand up and do whatever we need to do to make sure the rule of law is followed. And I would just advise that I think it's time for the administration to stop being divisive and work together, rather than promoting division which doesn't serve anybody's purpose.

CORNISH: Dennis Herrera. He's the attorney for the city of San Francisco. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

HERRERA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.