WASHINGTON, D. C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine joined a coalition of 15 attorneys general in an amicus brief to protect the District and its police department from federal funding cuts, supporting a challenge to the Trump administration’s efforts to punish so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions by putting immigration-related conditions on federal law enforcement grants. The attorneys general argue that these conditions interfere with states’ and localities’ right to set their own law enforcement policies and that the Department of Justice (DOJ) lacks the authority to impose these new conditions.
In Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16), the District received approximately $ 1.6 million in funds through DOJ’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) program. While FY17 Byrne-JAG funds are currently frozen due to the pending litigation, the proposed FY17 statewide allocation for the District was approximately $ 1.6 million. However, the Trump administration has asserted that its new grant conditions make the District ineligible for funds.
In City of Chicago v. Sessions, Chicago challenged DOJ’s imposition of new immigration-related conditions on grants issued under the Byrne-JAG program. Last fall, a district court entered a nationwide preliminary injunction against DOJ’s enforcement of two of the new immigration-related conditions, holding that DOJ lacked authority to impose them. The case is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
The amicus brief was led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and filed by the Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Federal law permits states and localities to limit their voluntary involvement with enforcing federal immigration policy, and many have done so because they have concluded that fostering a relationship of trust between their law-enforcement officials and their immigrant communities will promote public safety.
In July 2017, DOJ announced that it was imposing new immigration-related conditions on recipients of Byrne-JAG funding, and threatened to withhold funds from jurisdictions that did not comply with these conditions. Specifically, DOJ sought to require states and localities to provide the Department of Homeland Security with advance notice of an immigrant’s scheduled release date from a correctional facility, and to grant federal agents access to correctional facilities to question immigrants.
As the attorneys general argue, the new conditions violate the law, the constitutional principle of separation of powers, and the federalism principles enshrined in the Byrne-JAG statute-- interfering with states’ and localities’ abilities to set their own law enforcement policies and overstepping DOJ’s authority to impose the new conditions under the statute.
“The United States Attorney General now claims authority to withhold Byrne-JAG funding from States and localities that have made law-enforcement policy judgments that federal law permits, but with which he disagrees. Specifically, he contends that he may deny grants to States and localities that limit their voluntary involvement with enforcing federal immigration policy because they have concluded that fostering a relationship of trust between their law-enforcement officials and their immigrant communities will promote public safety for all their residents. The Byrne-JAG statute does not authorize the U.S. Attorney General’s position, which is also contrary to the federalism principles that Congress enshrined in the Byrne-JAG program,” the amicus brief states.
The Byrne-JAG program is a federal grant program that provides grants to states and localities according to a mandatory statutory formula. Congress designed Byrne-JAG to give states and localities a reliable source of law-enforcement funding, while also giving them maximum flexibility to decide how to use the funds in accordance with state and local law-enforcement policy.
The amici states have received law-enforcement grants under the Byrne-JAG program and its predecessors since 1968, and have used those funds to support a broad array of critical-law enforcement programs tailored to local needs, including to support community-based policing, and reduce sexual assault, elder abuse, gun violence, recidivism, and drug addiction.
For example, the District has used its Byrne-JAG funding to support the Anti-Drug Abuse Act,to fund re-entry programs for women who have been involved in the criminal justice system, and to support equitable housing initiatives that protect affordable housing. Without Byrne-JAG funding, the District and other jurisdictions may be forced to cut funding to these critical state and local programs.