New Jersey Attorney General Joins Multi-State Coalition Opposing Immigration-Related Federal Grant Cuts to States and Localities

TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has joined a multi-state coalition of Attorneys General in a new amicus brief challenging the Trump Administration’s efforts to punish states and other jurisdictions with fair and welcoming policies by putting immigration-related conditions on federal law enforcement grant funding.

In the amicus brief filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in City of Chicago v. Sessions – Grewal and 15 other Attorneys General argue that the Trump administration is interfering with the right of states and other localities to set their own law enforcement policies by attaching immigration-enforcement-related conditions to federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant funding.

In addition, the Attorneys General contend, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lacks authority to impose such conditions.

“The Trump Administration is playing politics with public safety,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The Administration talks a big game about reducing violent crime – but then undermines the state and local law enforcement officers who know best how to keep our communities safe.”

“We firmly believe the funding restrictions that Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions seeks to impose on states and towns are illegal,” Grewal said. “But just as crucially, they’re counterproductive. As a former County Prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand that you can fight crime while also treating our immigrant communities with dignity and respect.”

The coalition of states contends that federal law permits states and localities to limit their voluntary involvement with the enforcement of federal immigration policy.

In July 2017, DOJ announced that it was imposing new immigration-related conditions on recipients of Byrne Grant 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, to grant federal agents access to correctional facilities to question immigrants, and to report on and certify state and local compliance with DOJ’s new and expansive interpretation of 8 U.S.C. § 1373—a federal information-sharing law.

In their amicus brief, the Attorneys General argue that the new federal conditions including the condition requiring applicants to certify and report on compliance with DOJ’s interpretation of the information-sharing law violate the constitutional principle of separation of powers by attempting to dictate state and local law enforcement policies.

The Byrne Grant program is a federal grant program that provides funding to states and localities according to a mandatory statutory formula. Congress designed Byrne 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.

New Jersey and the other participating amicus states have received law-enforcement grants under the Byrne program (and its predecessor grants) since 1968, and have used those funds to support a broad array of critical-law enforcement programs tailored to local needs including support of community-based policing, and efforts to reduce sexual assault, elder abuse, gun violence, recidivism, and drug addiction.

In New Jersey, Byrne Grant program dollars have been allocated toward such public safety efforts as multi-agency task forces targeting illegal gang activity, firearms traffic and narcotics dealing; training for prosecutors, criminal justice information-sharing initiatives and body-worn cameras for law enforcement.

In Fiscal Year 2016, New Jersey received approximately $4.27 million in funds through the Byrne Grant program. Of that money, the bulk approximately $3.27 million – was earmarked for “pass through” to local law enforcement entities. While Fiscal Year 2017 Byrne Grant funds are currently frozen due to the pending litigation, the proposed FY17 statewide allocation for New Jersey is approximately $4.05 million. 

In City of Chicago v. Sessions, Chicago challenged DOJ’s new immigration-related conditions on grants issued under the Byrne program.

Last fall, a U.S. District Court judge entered a nationwide preliminary injunction against DOJ’s enforcement of two of the conditions, holding that DOJ lacked authority to impose them.

DOJ appealed that ruling to the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit has not yet ruled on DOJ’s appeal.

The amicus brief is led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and in addition to New Jersey Attorney General Grewal includes the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia. 

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