Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. C-SPAN
Attorney General Jeff Sessions. C-SPAN

Washington – Connecticut on Wednesday joined five other states suing to block the Justice Department from punishing so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions by putting immigration-related conditions on federal policing grants.

The state would lose more than $1.7 million in Byrnes crime-fighting grants if it does not comply with the conditions the Justice Department imposed last year.

Last summer, 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 prohibits 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.

Connecticut in 2013 passed the “Trust Act,” which allows state and local law enforcement agencies to ignore a federal “detainer” — a request to hold an undocumented resident for immigration officials — if he or she hasn’t committed a serious felony. The state also has a policy of encouraging law enforcement officials to refrain from asking about the immigration status of people they come in contact with.

The multi-state lawsuit, filed in a New York federal court, says the Justice Department’s conditions on the Byrne grants interfere with right of states and localities to set their own law enforcement policies. The lawsuit also argues that the DOJ lacks the authority to impose these new conditions, which could harm the relationship between local police and the immigrant community.

It called the imposition of the conditions “arbitrary and capricious.”  The lawsuit also said the conditions are unconstitutional since, in authorizing the grants, Congress has not placed those conditions on Byrne grants, which are distributed to states through a formula. The six states suing the Justice Department are New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Washington and Massachusetts.

“President Trump and Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions are assuming power they don’t have and literally putting lives at risk,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a statement. “Connecticut has taken a leadership role in standing up to this president’s repugnant immigration policies, including the cruel and heartless ‘zero-tolerance’ family separation order. Today our state is once again at the forefront in fighting back against yet another unlawful, unconstitutional, and unintelligible Trump administration directive.”

The Justice Department said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Attorney General Jeff 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 when he imposed the new conditions on Byrne grants last year.

The multi-state lawsuit states that on June 26 Connecticut was notified that it qualified for a Byrne award for fiscal year 2017 in the amount of $1,711,049. But to receive the money it must certify by Aug. 10 that it complies with the Justice Department’s conditions for the grants.

The lawsuit said Connecticut would give the money to various state agencies, “including funding stipends for local police to ensure their continued participation in and support of Connecticut’s Statewide Narcotic Task Force, substance abuse treatment services and other re-entry services in Connecticut prisons and communities.”

Federal grant money would also be used to fund the state’s opioid intervention project for local police departments, the lawsuit said, “the purpose of which is to reduce opioid-related deaths and reduce opioid-related crime and incarceration.”

“These grants support vital local law enforcement initiatives and were designed to give states access to funds to support a broad variety of public safety needs,” said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen.

Connecticut’s cities also receive nearly $1 million in Byrne grants each year. Much of that money could be at risk because many of the Connecticut cities and towns that receive the money, including New Haven and Hartford, have immigrant friendly policies and are considered “sanctuary cities” by Sessions.

In October, members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation asked Sessions why the $1.7 million in Byrne grants slated for the state, and  more than $900, 000 earmarked for Connecticut’s cities and towns, were not received by Sept. 30 — the end of the fiscal year — suggesting the delay could be the result of “Connecticut’s immigration laws and policies.”

“If true, this delay would be illogical and potentially illegal,” the delegation letter said.

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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