New York Leads Multi-State Lawsuit Against U.S. Department of Justice Over Threats of Withholding Public Safety Funds From ‘Sanctuary' Jurisdictions

New York City also filed a similar, but separate lawsuit

What to Know

  • NY is leading a lawsuit against U.S. DOJ to block the federal government’s alleged efforts to punish 'sanctuary' jurisdictions
  • The lawsuit argues that the new conditions imposed that states must comply with immigration policies to receive grants violates the law
  • New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington jointly filed the lawsuit; NYC filed a separate, but similar one

New York is leading a multi-state lawsuit against U.S. Department of Justice to block the federal government’s alleged efforts to punish so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions by putting immigration-related conditions on federal grants.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and General Attorney Barbara Underwood jointly announced the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Attorney General of the United States Jeff Sessions Wednesday.

The suit was led by Underwood and also filed by the attorneys general of Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington.

The lawsuit argues that the DOJ’s conditions on the federal law enforcement 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.

Federal law allows states and localities to limit their voluntary involvement regarding federal immigration policy enforcement, and many have done so after concluding that fostering a relationship of trust between law enforcement officials and their immigrant communities will promote public safety, the lawsuit says.

"Local law enforcement has the right to decide how to meet their local public safety needs – and the Trump administration simply does not have the right to require state and local police to act as federal immigration agents,” Underwood said.

The state alleges that as a result of the Trump administration’s actions, New York could lose nearly $9 million in Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) funds for fiscal year 2017.

The six states that sued Wednesday could lose a total of nearly $25 million. However, New York is one of the states with the largest total allocations, and New York City is one of the five local governments eligible to receive the largest awards.

Gov. Cuomo said the lawsuit filed jointly by the states sends "a message loud and clear that we will not stand for intolerance or hate and we will not be bullied with disgraceful political tactics, let alone ones that are blatantly unconstitutional." 

"It is unconscionable that the Trump administration would put New Yorkers' public safety at risk to impose its abhorrent and un-American immigration policies on our state," Cuomo said. "New Yorkers should know that we will continue fighting against this shameful administration and its unjust policies at every turn and will not rest until every New Yorker, regardless of where they come from or how they got here, is treated with respect and dignity."

The Byrne JAG program is a federal grant program that provides grants to states and localities 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. The Department of Justice, 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, half of the funds are allocated based on each state’s population and the other half is based on each state’s crime rate, New York officials explain, adding that 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.

The lawsuit argues that the new conditions imposed by the DOJ violates the law, claiming that the DOJ’s imposition of the new conditions violates separation powers because the DOJ lacks the authority to enforce the new conditions under the Byrne JAG statute and federal law.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims that DOJ’s imposition of the new conditions violates the Administrative Procedures Act because it is not in agreement with the law, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.”

The complaint also alleges that the DOJ’s mandate of the information-sharing condition is in violation of the Tenth Amendment since it requires states and localities to comply with the department’s lengthy interpretation of an unconstitutional law.

In a separate motion on Wednesday, New York City also filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice for “its unlawful efforts to force New York City officials to engage in deferral immigration enforcement” as one of the conditions for a safety grant Byrne JAG, which the city has relied on for years.

“Our message is clear: the Trump Administration’s actions are illegal and morally bankrupt,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We have proven, time and again, that welcoming immigrants has helped make this the safest big city in the country. Any attempt to jeopardize the trust between our local law enforcement and immigrant New Yorkers will fail.”

The city is asking the court to deem the DOJ’s measures illegal and compel immediate payment.

The states involved in Wednesday’s lawsuit have received law enforcement grants under the Byrne JAG program and its predecessor grants since 1968. The states have used those funds to support a broad law enforcement programs to address local needs, such as supporting programs for community-based policing as well as reducing sexual assault, elder abuse, gun violence, recidivism and drug addiction.

In a statement to NBC New York, DOJ spokesman Devin O'Mallery said: “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. Today’s lawsuit is a disservice to these states’ law-abiding citizens, but the Department of Justice will continue to fight for the rule of law, to protect public safety, and to keep criminal aliens off the streets.”

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