April 20 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court in Illinois upheld a nationwide injunction Thursday that blocks the Trump administration from withholding federal money to hundreds of "sanctuary cities" in the United States.
The grant money, which comes from a program called the Byrne JAG, is the primary provider of federal criminal justice funding to state and local governments.
Last year, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department would withhold funds unless "sanctuary cities" comply with detainer orders from the Department of Homeland Security in deporting undocumented immigrants.
"Sanctuary cities" have written or unwritten municipal policies against complying with such orders, arguing the potential unintended consequences pose a community danger. Some of the largest U.S. cities -- including New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco -- have "sanctuary" status.
Thursday, appellate Judge Ilana Rovner made clear in the opinion the court's role in this case is not to assess immigration policies, but evaluate separation of powers at the federal and local levels.
"The founders of our country well understood that the concentration of power threatens individual liberty established a bulwark against such tyranny by creating a separation of powers among the branches of government," Rovner wrote in the court's decision.
"If the Executive Branch can determine policy, and then use the power of the purse to mandate compliance with that policy by the state and local governments, all without the authorization or even acquiescence of elected legislators, that check against tyranny is forsaken.
"It falls to us, the judiciary, as the remaining branch of the government, to act as a check on such usurpation of power."
The decision affirms lower court rulings last year that issued a national injunction against the Trump administration policy.
"We will not be bullied, intimidated or coerced into making a false choice between our values as a welcoming city and the principles of community policing," he said in a news release.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said the Trump administration had exceeded its legal authority by trying to cut off federal funds that police use to fight violence in Chicago.
"It was a dangerous and irresponsible decision to pressure local communities to join in the president's mass deportation agenda, and I'm glad the 7th Circuit has upheld this injunction," Durbin said.
The Trump administration has argued that sanctuary policies endanger law enforcement officers and protects immigrant offenders who could've been deported after their first arrest.
"Many in the legal community have expressed concern that the use of nationwide injunctions is inconsistent with the separation of powers, and that their increased use creates a dangerous precedent," Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley responded. "We will continue to fight to carry out the department's commitment to the rule of law, protecting public safety, and keeping criminal aliens off the streets to further perpetrate crimes."
"Sanctuary Cities released at least 142 Gang Members across the United States, making it easy for them to commit all forms of violent crimes where none would have existed," President Donald Trump tweeted. "We are doing a great job of law enforcement, but things such as this make safety in America difficult!"