NJ joins other states to combat federal immigration agenda pressure

TRENTON, NJ — New Jersey Attorney Gen. Gurbir S. Grewal joined Attorneys General for New York and four other states on July 18 in suing the U.S. Justice Department over its decision to punish states that do not share the federal government’s civil immigration enforcement priorities by withholding federal law enforcement grant funding from those states, according to a press release from Grewal’s office.

Asserting that the Trump Administration is essentially holding hostage a “critical source” of crime-fighting and public safety funding for states, the lawsuit asks a federal court to rule that attaching immigration-enforcement-related conditions to federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant funding is illegal, and to permanently enjoin the administration from doing so.

“Under Attorney General Sessions, the Department of Justice has tried to force a false choice on state and local governments: Either you adopt the same harsh, anti-immigrant policies as the federal government, or you don’t get federal grant funding for critical anti-violence programs,” Grewal said in the press release. “But we reject that false choice. We will not allow the federal government to weaponize federal grant funding in an effort to advance the president’s agenda.

“In New Jersey, we recognize that law enforcement works best when it develops and maintains strong ties to our local communities, including out immigrant communities,” Grewal continued. “As a former county prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand that you can fight crime effectively while also treating immigrant families and communities with respect. The Justice Department apparently disagrees, and it’s willing to put lives in danger by playing politics with much-needed federal grant funds.”

The Justice Department previously announced that it will not distribute Byrne JAG funding to any state or locality that fails to meet several conditions related to federal civil immigration enforcement efforts. Specifically, DOJ said it will deny continued Byrne JAG funding to jurisdictions unless they: provide federal agents with access to state and local correctional facilities for the purpose of questioning immigrants; provide advance notice of an immigrant’s scheduled release date from a state or local correctional facility; and comply with DOJ’s new interpretation of a federal information-sharing law that pertains to “the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

Grewal argued that civil immigration enforcement is the sole province of the federal government, and that any attempt to force states to engage in or facilitate such activity is unconstitutional.

In the five-count lawsuit filed July 18, Grewal and the other attorneys general assert that nothing in the Byrne JAG statute authorizes U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “to impose conditions that require states or local governments to assist in immigration enforcement,” or to “deny funds to states or local governments for their failure to comply with these conditions.”

The lawsuit also charges that requiring Byrne JAG applicants to certify and report on compliance with DOJ’s new interpretation of 8 U.S.C. § 1373 violates the constitutional principle of separation of powers by attempting to dictate state and local law enforcement policies.

Every federal court to consider the issue to date has found DOJ’s notice and access conditions to be unlawful, according to the press release

The Byrne JAG program is a federal grant program that provides funding 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 priorities. In New Jersey, Byrne JAG dollars have been allocated toward such public safety efforts as multi-agency task forces targeting illegal gang activity, firearms trafficking and narcotics dealing; training for prosecutors; criminal justice information-sharing initiatives; and body-worn cameras for law enforcement. In Fiscal Year 2016, New Jersey received approximately $4.27 million in funds through the Byrne Grant program. Of that money, the bulk — approximately $3.27 million — was earmarked for “pass through” to local law enforcement entities.

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