15 AGs File Brief in City of Chicago v. Sessions, Supporting Challenge to Trump Administration’s New Conditions on Byrne-JAG Law Enforcement Grants.
New York, NY - January 5, 2017 - New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman led 15 Attorneys General in an amicus brief to protect cities and police departments 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 lacks the authority to impose these new conditions.
In Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16), New York and its localities received nearly $15 million in funds through the 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 New York and its localities was approximately $14.5 million. The Trump administration has targeted the City of New York for allegedly violating immigration-related grant conditions, putting the City’s funding at risk – despite the fact that the grant is named after NYPD Officer Edward Byrne, who was killed in the line of duty while protecting New York City communities.
“The law is clear: the Trump administration cannot strip a city or a police department of these critical funds, simply because they don’t like its policies,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “President Trump and the DOJ do not have the authority to unilaterally transform state and local police into federal immigration agents – or to force a city or state to decide between vital law enforcement grants and the policies they know are necessary to protect public safety. Attorneys General will continue to act to protect our public safety and each and every community we represent.”
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 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
The amicus brief was filed in the Seventh Circuit 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, New York has used its Byrne-JAG funding to support a multi-county initiative to combat gun violence, to improve criminal records systems, enhance forensic laboratories, and support prosecution and defense services. New York plans to use its fiscal year 2017 grant money to combat the opioid epidemic. Without Byrne-JAG funding, states like New York may be forced to cut funding to these critical state and local programs.