Mayors Joined Together and Successfully Blocked Efforts to Cut Funding to Inclusive, Welcoming Cities
Rhode Island – Today, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera announced that their cities’ two and a half year legal fight against the Department of Justice is over.
After filing a lawsuit on August 9, 2018 to prevent the Department of Justice from forcing police officers to be agents of immigration and to keep the cities’ police funding under the Byrne JAG program, the cities won successive victories in the Federal District Court in Rhode Island on June 10, 2019 (link) and then on November 14, 2019 (link). The cities won again in the First Circuit Court of Appeals on March 24, 2020 (link). On March 30, 2021, the Department of Justice dismissed their appeal, thus ending the case in the cities’ favor.
The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant created in 2005 and named for Edward Byrne, a New York City police officer killed while protecting a Guyanese immigrant, provides state and local police departments throughout the country with funding for crime prevention and education, planning, evaluation, technology improvement, and crime victim and witness initiatives as well as other programs.
In a change of policy in 2018, DOJ imposed new conditions that had to be met by states and local municipalities in order to receive this grant funding. New conditions included the certification of compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373, a federal statute that bars restrictions on federal-local sharing of immigration status information; unlimited access to local police stations and law enforcement facilities by U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel to interrogate arrestees; and the requirement that cities provide DHS with at least a 48 hour notice prior to an arrestee’s release, which would require detaining residents longer than is permissible under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In his two rulings for the Cities, U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr. wrote that “nothing in the Byrne JAG statute grants the Attorney General the authority to impose conditions that require states or local governments to assist in immigration enforcement” and that “the Attorney General exceeded his statutory authority in imposing the Challenged Conditions.”
In a unanimous decision of the First Circuit Court of Appeals that included former Supreme Court Justice David Souter, Justice Bruce Selya wrote that, “[w]e reject this capacious view of the types of funded programs that would permit the imposition of the challenged conditions — a view that covers most (if not all) criminal justice activities that a state or local government may undertake. For the reasons previously discussed, we think it would be wrong to hold that Congress gave the DOJ free rein to insist that Byrne JAG applicants furnish information and engage in coordination with respect to all of their law enforcement operations… the activities financed by the Cities’ FY2017 Byrne JAG grants have no direct connection either to the removal of noncitizens or to the Cities’ relationships with federal immigration authorities. It follows inexorably, as night follows day, that the DOJ lacked statutory authority to impose the challenged conditions pursuant to the information-reporting and coordination provisions of the Byrne JAG statute.”
“We went to Court to prevent the Trump administration from maliciously targeting the grants that support our local police departments. This absurd approach undermined community policing and would have made us all less safe,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. “I am thrilled that the Federal Courts served as a critical firewall against these unconstitutional directives. We stood proudly in court and stated that Providence is a welcoming city, that we will stand by our values, and we will fight the federal government’s illegal and unconstitutional overreaching. And we won!”
“At the heart of Central Falls’ turnaround in recent years has been the community-oriented nature of our police department, made, in part, possible by Byrne JAG funding,” said Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera. “I am inspired that our Federal Courts ordered that Central Falls can continue to receive this important funding without the requirement that our police officers become agents of a broken, federal immigration system.”
Both Mayors thanked the legal team that won this decisive victory: Providence Solicitor Jeffrey Dana, Central Falls Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk and Assistant City Solicitors Megan DiSanto and Etie Schaub from Providence. Mayor Rivera also thanked her predecessor James Diossa for his leadership in filing the lawsuit.
The Providence Police Department was awarded $212,112 for FY17 and has historically used Byrne JAG program funding to contract with Family Service of Rhode Island for the services of a part-time Bilingual Police Liaison and pay personnel (overtime) to conduct targeted enforcement patrols. The Bilingual Liaison has been crucial in assisting local officers with counseling children and families in crisis, especially those families with limited English proficiency. This funding is critical to enhancing enforcement and supporting the services provided by the Bilingual Liaison to ensure the safety and well-being of all Providence residents.
The Central Falls Police Department was awarded a Byrne JAG award for FY17 in for $28,677. Central Falls has used Byrne JAG funding for a variety of purposes, including $28,961 in 2016 for internet access and tablets for detectives; $25,257 in 2015 for upgrades to the police servers; $26,301 in 2014 for upgrades to video cameras as well as upgrades to their radio and digital recording systems in past years.
A copy of the original lawsuit can be found here.