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New York City and State File Lawsuit Over Grants Linked to ICE Cooperation

The Justice Department has been doling out nearly $200 million in public safety grants to selected cities across the country in the past few weeks.

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Liz Robbins
, New York Times

The Justice Department has been doling out nearly $200 million in public safety grants to selected cities across the country in the past few weeks.

But the awards came with new strings attached: The cities had to agree to cooperate with immigration authorities.

For so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions like New York City and New York state — which generally do not hold people arrested on criminal charges in jails for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, to deport them — the federal government’s additional conditions were seen as illegal and coercive. So city and state officials separately sued the Justice Department on Wednesday, filing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The public safety grants were originally supposed to be distributed in 2017, which included an $8.8 million grant for New York and $4.1 million for New York City. In a letter in late June, the state had been told it could receive the money if it met the new conditions; the city still has not heard whether it will get the funds.

Attorney General Barbara Underwood of New York led a lawsuit with five other similarly affected states — New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington. Together, they stand to lose $25 million.

“This is a political attack on New Yorkers at the expense of our public safety — and it is unlawful,” Underwood said in a statement. “So we will see the Trump administration in court.”

In New York City, the federal justice assistance money was supposed to be used to hire 911 operators, crime analysts and prosecutors, in a program named for a New York City police officer, Edward Byrne, who was killed in the line of duty in 1988.

Last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned that cities and states could lose millions of dollars in federal grants unless they began cooperating with immigration agents.

Last month, the Department of Justice told some jurisdictions that they were getting the 2017 justice assistance grants, but New York City was not one of them.

New York responded to the Justice Department in June 2017 that it should receive the money because its local laws limiting cooperation with immigration agents do not clash with federal laws and because the local laws make the city safer.

“We have proven, time and again, that welcoming immigrants has helped make this the safest big city in the country,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday. “Any attempt to jeopardize the trust between our local law enforcement and immigrant New Yorkers will fail.”

In response to the lawsuits, Devin O’Malley, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a statement, “By choosing not to comply with a federal statute that promotes cooperation between local jurisdictions and federal immigration authorities, political leaders deliberately choose to protect criminal aliens in their custody and to make their communities less safe.”

Both lawsuits contend that the Justice Department was violating the 10th Amendment in requiring them to comply with three new conditions: advance notice of an immigrant’s scheduled release date from a correctional facility; giving federal agents access to correctional facilities; and sharing immigration information with federal authorities.

The city does provide limited cooperation with federal immigration officials, turning over people convicted of certain felonies to immigration enforcement agents, if the agents have a warrant.

Other cities and states, including California, Chicago and Philadelphia, have sued the federal government over the grants. Chicago won a nationwide injunction that would have required the Justice Department to disburse the money, despite the city’s sanctuary status, but an appeals court on June 26 narrowed that ruling saying it should apply only to Chicago. After that ruling, the Justice Department began awarding the grants.

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