Demonstrators at a November rally in downtown New Haven. New Haven Independent
Demonstrators at a November 2016 rally in downtown New Haven. New Haven Independent

Washington – Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen on Tuesday asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to clarify new rules requiring that those seeking federal policing money certify they are cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy also have written Sessions over his policy of cracking down on “sanctuary” cities and states by withholding federal law enforcement funds.

In July, the Justice Department said it would withhold Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, usually the largest source of federal criminal justice funds for local and state governments, if a jurisdiction prohibited local officials from communicating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Funds also would be denied if a city or state blocked ICE from interviewing jail inmates, or did not provide at least 48 hours advance notice to the Department of Homeland Security regarding the scheduled release date and time of an immigrant in the jurisdiction’s custody.

“This is what the American people should be able to expect from their cities and states,” Sessions said. “These long overdue requirements will help us take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer.”

In response, Chicago and other cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have sued the Justice Department.

Connecticut has reacted by asking for clarification of the new Byrne grant requirements.

In his letter to Sessions, Jepsen said the state wants to apply for a new Byrne grant.

Under the new rules, Jepsen and Gov. Dannel Malloy must certify, under penalty of perjury, that the jurisdictions receiving new Byrne grants comply with the new regulations. According to the Justice Department, Connecticut cities and towns received a total of nearly $1 million in Byrne grants in 2016. The state received an additional $2 million-plus dollars.

Jepsen told Sessions the new rules “are in some ways vague and uncertain as to what may be required of grant recipients.”

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen

“This lack of clarity places grant applicants in the position of not knowing what they may be consenting to by accepting a grant award and potentially placing them at risk of taking illegal or unconstitutional actions,” Jepsen wrote.

He questioned what kind of access to correctional or detention facilities ICE would require. He also said there are “practical and legal questions” about the requirement DHS be notified at least 48 hours in advance of a prisoner’s release.

“In particular, the 48-hour notice requirement cannot itself lawfully compel continued detention when there is no longer another state law or constitutional basis to detain that person,” Jepsen said.

He also said Connecticut is in compliance with federal immigration law, especially one that requires cities and states to share information with federal immigration officials.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration considers Connecticut a “sanctuary” state, largely because it approved a law in 2013 called the Trust Act.

That law says state and local law-enforcement agencies can only detain suspects at the request of ICE, a practice known as a detainer request, beyond the time of their scheduled release under certain circumstances.

The state will honor federal detainers involving undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria, such as having been convicted of a felony, having an outstanding arrest warrant or final deportation order, or having been involved in gang activity or terrorism.

The Trust Act also says “upon determination by the law enforcement officer that such individual is to be detained or released, the law enforcement officer shall immediately notify United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Senate Judiciary Committee video feed / File Photo

So, it appears state law complies with the requirement that ICE be notified about the release of a criminal alien, but only those for whom detainers are honored.

Malloy has declined to consider Connecticut a “sanctuary” state, saying that would make Connecticut a target of the Trump’s administration’s hard-line policy against undocumented immigrants.

But some Connecticut towns, including New Haven and Hartford, have been proud to assume that mantle and have instituted their own policies to help immigrants, saying trust between local police and the immigrant community is important to public safety.

Malloy and Jepsen would have to certify those jurisdictions are in compliance with the new Byrne grant regulations in its application for policing funds, which must be submitted by Sept. 5.

On Monday,  Blumenthal and Murphy joined dozens of fellow congressional Democrat in another letter to Sessions that said “we are alarmed that the Department of Justice is placing new and onerous conditions on local law enforcement’s access to critical violence prevention funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) program.”

“We write to seek an explanation of these new Byrne-JAG conditions and to request answers to important questions regarding their inclusion in the FY 2017 Byrne-JAG Local Solicitation form that was published on August 3,” the senators wrote.

2016 policing grants

Listed below are all jurisdictions in the state that were eligible for fiscal year 2016 Justice Assistance Grant funding.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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