Sen. Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate judiciary Committee on his nomination to be attorney general. Senate Judiciary Committee video feed / File Photo
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Washington – Connecticut’s lawmakers on Tuesday asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions why the state has not received about $2.6 million in 2017 federal policing grants, suggesting the delay may be the result of “Connecticut’s immigration laws and policies.”

“If true, this delay would be illogical and potentially illegal,” the delegation letter said. The lawmakers said the money should have been given out by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Sessions has said several types of grants from the Office of Justice Programs  would be withheld from jurisdictions that do not comply with a federal statute known as Section 1373. The statute bars states and local governments from withholding information from federal immigration officials.

Sessions calls jurisdictions that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration officials “sanctuaries” that “intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes.”

“These policies also encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law,” Sessions said.

Sessions ordered the Justice Department to change regulations for applying for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants so that applicants must certify they are in compliance with Section 1373.

Applicants must also, for the first time, permit U.S. Department of Homeland Security personnel access to any detention facility “in order to meet with an alien and inquire as to his or her right to be or remain in the United States.”

Under the new rules, applicants must also “provide at least 48 hours advanced notice to DHS regarding the scheduled release date and time of an alien in the jurisdiction’s custody” so federal authorities can take an undocumented immigrant into custody.

Sessions also told the Justice Department to “claw back” Byrne grant money from certain jurisdictions that may not have been in compliance with Section 1373, but received grant money in 2016.

Connecticut’s Trust Act allows the state to decline certain requests to hold jailed undocumented immigrants past their release date so immigration officials can take them into custody. But the state says it shares all information required by Section 1373 with federal authorities, and the Justice Department seems to have agreed.

The state received a letter from the Justice Department dated Oct. 11 that said “based on the materials you have provided, the department has found no evidence that the State of Connecticut is currently out of compliance with section 1373,” as far as its 2016 award.

“As a reminder, complying with section 1373 is an ongoing requirement that the Department of Justice will continue to monitor,” wrote Acting Attorney General Alan Hanson to Ben Barnes, the head of Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management.

The state was awarded a 2016 Byrne grant in the amount of $1.7 million and hopes to receive the same amount in a 2017 grant.

A total of about $910,000 in 2016 Byrne grants were distributed to Bridgeport, Danbury, Hamden, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford, West Haven, and nine other Connecticut towns, some of which have set their own immigration policies.

A justice Department official said the DOJ’s letter to the State of Connecticut only addresses the state’s compliance with Section 1373. “Local jurisdictions applying for Byrne JAG have an independent obligation to certify their own compliance with 1373,” and the two new conditions, he said.

There’s evidence other jurisdictions outside of Connecticut have not received their Byrne grants either. And some cities, including Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, have been warned they are in danger of a clawback of their 2016 funding.

Connecticut’s lawmakers told Sessions that two federal judges have issued injunctions that block the Justice Department from denying federal funding “to so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, with the latest one pertaining specifically to the JAG program.’

“The JAG program is among the leading federal sources of law enforcement assistance,” the lawmakers said. “Police departments in our state rely on these funds to keep officers in neighborhoods, keep communities safe, and ensure that our criminal justice system operates smoothly and effectively … Given the Trump administration’s promise to strengthen law enforcement, we are puzzled as to why the Department would interrupt such a critical pipeline of resources.”

Meanwhile, Sandra Koorejian, a grant writer for the New Haven Police Department, is frustrated.

A Byrne grant in the amount of about $200,000 a year has for the last four years help pay for the department’s overtime, training and supplies, she said.

Koorejian said the city, which has several immigrant-friendly policies, is ready to certify it’s in compliance with federal law, but hasn’t heard from the Justice Department about this year’s grant allocation.

“We really need that money,” she said.

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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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