Six States, NYC Sue DOJ Over Sanctuary City Funding Threat

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Associated Press)

MANHATTAN (CN) – A coalition of six states led by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to block what they characterized as the Justice Department’s overreaching efforts to punish so-called sanctuary jurisdictions by conditioning federal funding on compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The filing of the lawsuit came the same day that New York City fired back against the directive by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Our message is clear: the Trump Administration’s actions are illegal and morally bankrupt,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

In July 2017, Sessions said the Justice Department will no longer award $385 million in grants to cities and states that refuse to help federal agents detain undocumented immigrants at local jails.

In a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York, attorneys general from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Washington and Massachusetts seek declaratory and injunctive relief to protect their ability to pursue their own law enforcement prerogatives in the manner that best achieves the safety and security of their communities.

Represented by Lourdes Rosado from the Civil Rights Bureau New York attorney general’s office, the six states claim that the Justice Department’s conditions on Byrne JAG grantees represents an unlawful, ultra vires attempt to force States and localities to forsake their own policy judgments and aid in federal civil immigration enforcement.”

The six states that sued today could lose a total of nearly $25 million.

Sessions’ funding measure would make law enforcement grants dependent the states providing access to their correctional facilities for federal immigration enforcement agents,  advance notice to federal immigration authorities before an individual’s scheduled release from custody and accepting various conditions relating to an expansive interpretation of 8 U.S.C. 1373 — a federal information-sharing law which prohibits states and localities from restricting their officials from communicating with federal immigration authorities “regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

The states claim that the Department of Justice lacks discretion to impose these substantive conditions on grant funding.

Byrne JAG funds are used to support programs tailored to local law enforcement needs, including initiatives to combat gun violence, reduce violent crime, provide substance abuse services, support diversion and re-entry programs, improve criminal records systems, fight organized crime, prevent sexual abuse, and fund domestic violence legal advocacy.

The conditions dictated by the Sessions and the Justice Department force the states “to accept unlawful and unconstitutional conditions that diminish our sovereign ability to set our own law enforcement priorities and protect our communities, or forfeit Byrne JAG funding, thus undermining the vital programs that such funding supports,” the complaint charges.

New York’s Attorney General Barbara Underwood, whose state stands to lose $9 million in grant fund, said in a press release Wednesday  “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,” Underwood added, “Instead of allowing New York’s law enforcement agencies to determine how best to keep New Yorkers safe, the Trump administration is threatening to withhold vital public safety funds.”

The states’ deadline for accepting their Byrne JAG allocation is August 10, 2018

More than 350 children separated from the families under Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy were placed in New York City as of June 20, but a lawsuit filed by the city on Wednesday involves a separate issue of communications with federal authorities and the federal government.

As a sanctuary city, New York limits the cooperation that they provide federal immigration authorities.

The Department of Justice has not released $4 million for the city’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which supports 911 emergency responders, diversion programs for nonviolent felony drug offenders, and anti-cybercrime and identity theft efforts

Without issuing a final determination on New York’s application, the Justice Department announced last month that it would distribute nearly $200 million to jurisdictions committed to “keeping criminal aliens off our streets and our law-abiding citizens safe.”

In a 30-page lawsuit, New York Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter noted that Sessions’ statements on the city’s crime record does not fit the facts.

“Although the Attorney General has asserted that New York City is ‘crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime’ due to its ‘soft on crime stance,’ the city’s historic streak of declining crime paints a very different picture,” the complaint states. “Crime in the city is at the lowest level since the city started keeping reliable records in the 1950s, with decreases in every major felony category. The city’s track record contradicts the Attorney General’s repeated-and factually unsupported-claim that ‘the lawless practices of so-called ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions … make our country less safe.’”

Last month in nearby Philadelphia, a federal judge found the Justice Department’s defunding sanctuary cities illegal in a ruling that splashed cold water on Sessions’ crime claims about the City of Brotherly Love.

“The major source of crime in Philadelphia are people who were born and raised here,” U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson wrote.

New York City argues that the opposite of Sessions’ claim is true: Cities that protect undocumented immigrants are safer.

“In cities where immigrant communities believe that local authorities operate in concert with federal immigration enforcement, residents have retreated into the shadows, to the detriment of their own safety and that of the public,” the lawsuit states. “Crime reporting in many immigrant communities dropped precipitously in the wake of the current administration’s sweeping executive order instructing law enforcement agencies to target more immigrants for deportation, encouraging state and local government participation in federal immigration enforcement, and unilaterally withdrawing all federal funding from whatever jurisdictions the Attorney General deemed ‘sanctuary jurisdictions.’”

This trend has not played out in New York City.

“By contrast, New York City has seen no decline in crime reporting associated with ZIP codes with the highest foreign-born and non-citizen populations,” the complaint states. “This encouraging trend extends to crimes like harassment and rape, where a greater chilling effect would be expected if residents were afraid to contact the police because of immigration concerns. Crimes continue to be reported-and, therefore, dangerous criminals continue to be arrested and prosecuted.”

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley insisted that the policy was about public safety.

“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,” O’Malley said in a statement. “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.”

In June, O’Malley attacked Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney by name in a press release accusing him of gleefully protecting violent criminals, despite a federal judge’s finding rejecting the Justice Department’s scaremongering. Every study on the subject has found that immigrants commit less crime than native-born citizens.

New York City hopes that a Manhattan-based federal judge will find that the Justice Department’s policy is “unlawful, unconstitutional, and arbitrary and capricious,” echoing similar rulings in Philadelphia and Santa Clara.

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