- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to make sure cities don’t get federal public safety grants if they refuse to cooperate with immigration officials.

But as the department fends off lawsuits brought over its plan to withhold such grants from “sanctuary” cities, court filings show that even cities that do cooperate are being penalized.

The Justice Department this summer announced stipulations for the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program that require cities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in order to be considered eligible for the federal law enforcement funds. Some cities, including Chicago and Philadelphia, have sued over the rules and argued that the attorney general doesn’t have the authority to create the eligibility requirements.

As federal courts consider the legal challenges, the department has put the grant awards on hold — meaning nearly all of the 1,000 state and local agencies that applied for grants this year have yet to receive them.

In declarations filed in the Chicago and Philadelphia cases, Alan Hanson, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s office of justice programs, said the department had hoped to dole out the $257 million in Byrne grants to state and local agencies by Sept. 30. Other than two jurisdictions that received awards in August, none of the money has been distributed.

As of last week, neither the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations nor the National Fraternal Order of Police had heard any complaints about the delay in grant distributions.

Jim Pasco of the FOP said the federal government hasn’t always been known for its timeliness when it comes to distributing such funds.

“But at some point it will become problematic if it isn’t resolved,” he said.

The attorney general blames lax immigration enforcement for fostering a culture of lawlessness that he says leads to upticks in crime. For months, he has warned that jurisdictions that uphold sanctuary policies shielding illegal immigrants could be at risk of losing federal funding.

“We cannot continue giving federal grants to cities that actively undermine the safety of federal law officers and intentionally frustrate efforts to reduce crime in their own cities,” Mr. Sessions said last week at an event with law enforcement officials in Austin, Texas. “These jurisdictions that knowingly, willfully and purposefully release criminal aliens back into their communities are sacrificing the lives and safety of American citizens in the pursuit of an extreme open-borders policy.”

But some major cities have protested. Democratic leaders defend their policies as a way to maintain trust and cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.

The snag in distributing grants, not just sanctuary cities but also to jurisdictions that are cooperative, stems from a ruling in Chicago’s lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber ruled on Sept. 15 that the Justice Department could not enforce two of the three conditions it sought to impose on the Byrne grants: “notice” and “access” conditions that would have required cities to let federal agents into their prisons and jails and to give immigration agents at least 48 hours’ notice before releasing illegal immigrants. A third condition, which prohibits state and local governments from restricting communications with federal immigration authorities “regarding the citizenship or immigration status” of individuals, was allowed to stay in effect.

Because the Justice Department is banned from enforcing the two conditions anywhere in the country, it has opted not to disperse any of the grants. If the department distributed the grants without the notice or access conditions in place, even if the conditions were later ruled lawful, then the department wouldn’t be able to enforce them after the fact for the rest of the fiscal year, Justice Department attorneys argued.

The Justice Department sought to persuade the judge to reconsider his ruling. Mr. Hanson wrote that a delay in awarding the grants could pose a hardship for localities that have relatively small budgets and could even hinder law enforcement responses in areas hit by hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“A common (though by no means exclusive) use of Byrne JAG funds is to cover state and local law enforcement overtime and equipment expenses,” Mr. Hanson wrote in a declaration filed in the Chicago case. “This year, funding for such expenses may at present be particularly critical to various state and local jurisdictions facing extraordinary law enforcement needs based on recent states of emergency caused by hurricane activity in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Judge Leinenweber this month declined to alter his ruling. On Friday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to take up a Justice Department appeal of his initial ruling, saying the lower court had not resolved Chicago’s pending request that he reconsider his decision allowing the third grant condition to take effect.

At a congressional oversight hearing last week, Mr. Sessions said he sees the effort to compel cities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities as tantamount to improving public safety.

“I do not want to not have grants go to Chicago, but we need their support,” Mr. Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “When somebody is arrested in their jail that’s due to be deported, we just simply ask that they call us so we can come by and pick them up if they need to be removed. That is not happening, and we’ve got to work through it some way.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, argued that Chicago police don’t see illegal immigration as a driving force behind the city’s high rates of homicides and gun violence. He noted that Chicago had planned to use this year’s Byrne grants for a gunshot detection system that would pinpoint the locations of gunfire and alert police.

“You want to cut back these funds because you want the city of Chicago to play the role of immigration police on federal [and] civil laws,” Mr. Durbin said. “Mr. Attorney General, you are not helping us solve the murder problem in the city of Chicago by taking away these funds.”

Mr. Sessions questioned how allowing someone to remain in the U.S. illegally would help reduce crime.

“They were here illegally to begin with, much less [to] commit another crime,” he said. “How does that make the city of Chicago safer when you don’t remove criminals who are illegally in the country?”

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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