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Attorney General Kilmartin Files Suit to Protect Rhode Island from Public Safety Funding Cuts

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, part of a coalition of seven Attorneys General, filed suit 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 filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Attorneys General argue 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.

"I have been working and continue to work closely with my colleagues across the country to challenge this Administration's overly harsh and at times, unrealistic, actions on immigration, and this threat to withhold federal funds from municipalities working to protect immigrants is certainly one of them. While there are issues surrounding current policies that should be addressed, immigrants living in Rhode Island deserve to be treated with basic dignity and respect, despite these scare tactics over funding," said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.

The suit was led by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood and filed by the Attorneys General of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington.

As a result of the Trump administration's actions, Rhode Island alone could lose approximately $767,000 in Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) funds for Fiscal Year 2017; the seven states that sued could lose a total of nearly $25 million.

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. 1373a 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 argue, the new conditions violate the law, including the following claims:

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).

The states involved in this lawsuit have received law-enforcement grants under the Byrne-JAG program previously and they have used those funds to 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. Without Byrne-JAG funding, Rhode Island may be forced to cut funding to these critical state and local programs.

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