Attorney General Kilmartin Announces Major Win in Lawsuit Against Trump Administration over Public Safety Funds

Attorney General Kilmartin Announces Major Win in Lawsuit Against Trump Administration over Public Safety Funds


U.S. District Court Finds Federal Government Cannot Withhold Byrne-JAG Funding for not Certifying Compliance with Immigration Conditions


Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin released the following statement upon a federal court decision in the lawsuit he and a coalition of the seven other Attorneys General filed against the Trump administration which sought to punish so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions by putting immigration-related conditions on Edward Byrne Memorial Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) public safety funds:

“This is a major victory for Rhode Island and other states as the Court clearly found the federal government cannot withhold – or threaten to withhold – law enforcement formula grant money to states and local communities for not certifying compliance with immigration conditions,” said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin.  “The threat to withhold these funds was a blatant attempt by this Administration to force local law enforcement to operate effectively as Immigration and Customers Enforcement agents.  Police are sworn to protect and serve ALL, and that oath cannot and will never be dictated by those with divisive political agendas.”

“These funds are important to Rhode Island and 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,” added Kilmartin.

Attorney General Kilmartin, as part of a coalition of seven Attorneys General, filed the lawsuit earlier this year against the Trump administration to block its efforts to punish jurisdictions that did not agree to immigration-related conditions on federal law enforcement grants.

In the suit, the Attorneys General argued that the Trump administration’s conditions on the grants interfere with the right of states and localities to set their own law enforcement policies, and that the Department of Justice lacks the authority to impose these new conditions.

The decision means Rhode Island will receive approximately $767,000 in Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) funds for Fiscal Year 2017.  After Rhode Island filed the lawsuit, the Department of Justice agreed to hold the funds in escrow pending the Court’s decision on the matter.  Those funds will now be released to Rhode Island.

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. Rhode Island received a request for certification as to the Trump administration’s new grant conditions, which require state and local governments to participate in the federal government’s draconian mandates by providing the Department of Homeland Security with advance notice of an immigrant’s scheduled release date from a correctional facility; granting federal agents access to correctional facilities to question immigrants; and reporting on and certifying state and local compliance with DOJ’s new and expansive interpretation of 8 U.S.C. § 1373—a federal information-sharing law.

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.

As the Attorneys General argued – and as the court determined – the new conditions violate the law, including the following:

  • DOJ’s imposition of the new conditions violates separation of powers because DOJ lacks authority to impose the new conditions under the Byrne JAG statute and other federal law.

  • DOJ’s imposition of the new conditions violates the Administrative Procedures Act because it is not in accordance with the law and is arbitrary and capricious.

  • DOJ’s imposition of the information-sharing condition violates the Tenth Amendment because it requires states and localities to comply with DOJ’s expansive and unconstitutional interpretation of 8 U.S.C. § 1373.

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. DOJ, which administers the grants, is required by law to issue grants in accordance with a mandatory formula set forth in the Byrne-JAG statute.

Of the total amount appropriated by Congress, fifty percent of the funds are allocated based on each State’s population and fifty percent based on each State’s crime rate. Each state must receive at least one-quarter of one percent of the funds appropriated by Congress for a given year, regardless of what the formula would otherwise dictate. Between a State and its localities, sixty percent of funding shall be for direct grants to States, and forty percent shall be for grants directly to localities (compared within a state based on crime rate).

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