A New York federal appeals court ruling yesterday allows the current GOP administration to withhold millions of dollars in law enforcement grants from U.S. states that have passed sanctuary laws to protect illegal immigrants from federal prosecution and deportation.
On February 26, 2020, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned a lower court’s decision that ordered federal officials to provide crime-fighting funds to New York City and the seven states New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Rhode Island.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in 2017 that it would withhold grant money from cities and states that pass laws to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, denying them access to jails and advance notice before releasing an undocumented prisoner.
The new policy requires cities to notify federal agents when undocumented immigrants are released from police detention. Before the change, cities and states applying for grant money only needed to show they were not preventing local law enforcement from communicating with federal authorities about the immigration status of people who were detained.
In response, several state attorneys general filed lawsuits against the United States government. All of the seven states mentioned above except for Rhode Island filed a July 2017 suit and the Big Apple filed its own. These jurisdictions withhold legal information about migrants from federal agencies such as ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) yet expect a federal handout in the form of cash grants.
The six states faced budgetary losses of almost $25 million and NYC stood to lose $4 million of federal funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. They sued the federal government on constitutional grounds.
The Byrne Program was named for a 22-year-old NYC police officer named Edward Byrne who was shot to death while guarding the home of a Guyanese immigrant cooperating with authorities investigating drug trafficking. Congress pays out over $250 million in federal funding to aid state and local criminal justice initiatives each year.
Speaking for the DOJ, Devin O’Malley criticized the litigation and the people behind it:
“By choosing not to comply with a federal statute that promotes cooperation between local jurisdictions and federal immigration authorities, political leaders deliberately choose to protect criminal aliens in their custody and to make their communities less safe. Today’s lawsuit is a disservice to these states’ law-abiding citizens, but the Department of Justice will continue to fight for the rule of law, to protect public safety, and to keep criminal aliens off the streets.”
The lawsuit argued that the DOJ’s conditions on receiving federal law enforcement grants interfere with the right of states and localities to set their own law enforcement policies and that the Justice Department lacks the authority to impose these new terms.
General Attorney Barbara Underwood led the legal attack, explaining her liberal viewpoint about unbridled immigration:
“Local law enforcement has the right to decide how to meet their local public safety needs – and the Trump administration simply does not have the right to require state and local police to act as federal immigration agents.”
In 2018, the DOJ imposed additional conditions on the grant money. The legal challenges from sanctuary jurisdictions have yet to reach the New York appeals court.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit disagreed, ruling unanimously that the plain language of relevant laws clearly state that the U.S. attorney general can impose conditions on states and municipalities seeking to receive federal funds.
Judge Reena Raggi wrote in the decision:
“These conditions help the federal government enforce national immigration laws and policies supported by successive Democratic and Republican administrations. But more to the authorization point, they ensure that applicants satisfy particular statutory grant requirements imposed by Congress and subject to Attorney General oversight.”
Also noted was the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has remarked repeatedly that the federal government has broad power over states regarding immigration policies.
Commenting on the ruling, a DOJ spokesperson said:
“It recognizes the lawful authority of the attorney general to ensure that Department of Justice grant recipients are not at the same time thwarting federal law enforcement priorities.”
Federal immigration agents say they need to know which local jail prisoners have no legal documentation to be in the U.S. so ICE can deport the prisoners released after serving their sentences.
The grant money at issue is used to support investigative task forces, improve 911 emergency call systems and crime laboratories, and reduce gang violence in prisons.
The recent appeals court decision means that recipients of federal grants will not be allowed to work against federal law enforcement policies regarding illegals.
The former Democratic Obama administration agreed that cities and states must conform with the federal law regarding sharing information to qualify for the grants.