This week, despite continued urging by the National League of Cities and others, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is continuing to delay the disbursement of Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) funds for 2017.
The reason? Those grants have become a bargaining chip in the DOJ’s escalating feud with so-called “sanctuary cities”.
For cities across America, Byrne JAG funds are essential to maintaining high performance in law enforcement, including much-lauded strategies like community policing and engagement. The National League of Cities has urged the DOJ to release these funds as soon possible to support our cities’ law enforcement officers in their fight to reduce crime and keep our communities safe.
The truth is clear: The DOJ is delaying the release of $174 million in 2017 funding awards because of pending litigation that questions the legitimacy of the new requirements DOJ has placed on Byrne JAG recipients related to their enforcement of federal immigration laws.
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In July 2017, DOJ added a “notice” and an “access” requirement to receive Byrne JAG funds. Recipients were required to (1) provide 48 hours advance notice to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding the scheduled release of “aliens” and (2) allow access to correctional or detention facilities to meet with “aliens” and inquire about their right to be in the United States.
But the safety of local law enforcement officers should not be put at risk for the sake of punishing cities that question the validity of DOJ’s new requirements. DOJ should not use local law enforcement officers — who are doing their jobs, and trying to keep their communities safe — as pawns in a constitutional battle over who is responsible for immigration enforcement.
Contrary to the desired outcome by the DOJ, the delay in releasing the funding to local law enforcement agencies jeopardizes their ability to maintain law and order and do their jobs effectively.
City leaders know that Byrne JAG is an essential federal program that helps law enforcement officers keep their citizens safe, prevents crime and victimization, and provides lifesaving tools to their officers. Byrne JAG touches nearly every city and town in America through projects funded and investments made in the state and local justice system.
Local governments use these funds to improve criminal justice programs that support prevention, enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, corrections, crisis intervention, victim assistance, body cameras, forensics, and other community policing programs. Byrne JAG provides local governments the ability to leverage federal dollars to build evidence-based policing programs that would not otherwise be possible. These grants are especially essential to support the critical role multi-jurisdictional heroin drug task forces that target regional drug trafficking organizations.
When the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the nationwide preliminary injunction on the imposition of new conditions on the Byrne JAG grant program, onlookers had hoped that the DOJ would see fit to release the 2017 Byrne JAG awards immediately.
There is nothing in the court’s ruling that prevents the DOJ from releasing the 2017 funds. Unfortunately, during last week’s Senate hearing, Attorney General Session’s stated that his agency would continue to hold the 2017 funding until there is a final ruling which can be months away.
At this point, any further delay by the DOJ in awarding the funds undermines local law enforcement’s efforts to keep our communities safe. The National League of Cities will continue to work with the DOJ to support local law enforcement and ensure they have the resources needed to keep all of us safe — but the current state of affairs is not sustainable.
About the Author: Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors is the program director of public safety and crime prevention at the National League of Cities. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.