NYC Sues Trump, DOJ Over ‘Unlawful Conditions’ on Public Safety Grants

By David Brand

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice Wednesday for what the city said are “unlawful efforts” to force New York City officials to participate in federal immigration enforcement.

According to the lawsuit, DOJ placed “unprecedented conditions” on a public safety grant known as the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant that it has provided to the City for several years. The DOJ has not yet released the $4 million grant, which is named for Edward Byrne, a New York Police Department officer who was killed while protecting a Guyanese immigrant acting as a cooperating witness

“Our message is clear: the Trump Administration’s actions are illegal and morally bankrupt,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “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 DOJ has also also threatened to take back millions of dollars that it has previously granted the city. The Byrne grant supports 911 emergency responders, diversion programs for nonviolent felony drug offenders, and anti-cybercrime and identity theft efforts, to name only a few public safety initiatives.

The city contends that the DOJ has attached illegal conditions that undermine key City policies that protect all residents, including its immigrants. The City has asked the Court to deem the conditions illegal and compel immediate payment to the City.

“For years, New York City has qualified for the Byrne grant under a fixed formula, but DOJ has abruptly altered grant requirements in an attempt to force the City to abandon policies of constructive engagement with its immigrant residents that have proven effective in maintaining and enhancing public safety,” said City Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter. “The conditions DOJ seeks to impose are an unprecedented and unconstitutional intrusion on the City’s policy prerogatives, are inconsistent with the intent of Congress and diminish the City’s safety. As detailed in our complaint, DOJ’s efforts would cause immigrant communities to disengage from public services and retreat into the shadows, to the detriment of their own safety and that of the public. We are asking the Court to permanently enjoin DOJ from imposing the three conditions and compel immediate payment to the City.”

For the fiscal year 2016 Byrne grant funding, DOJ demanded that New York City, along with eight other jurisdictions, certify that they complied with Section 1373, a statute that bars states and localities from adopting policies that restrict communications regarding immigration and citizenship status between state and local officials and the federal government. This was the first time DOJ ever requested such compliance since the enactment of Section 1373 roughly 20 years ago. In a letter sent to DOJ in June 2017, the City demonstrated that it was legally entitled to the grant.

The next year, DOJ said recipients would have to certify compliance with Section 1373 and the following two new conditions in order to receive funding: the City must provide at least 48 hours’ advance notice to the Department of Homeland Security regarding the release date and time of an inmate for whom DHS requests such advance notice, and DHS must be permitted to access any detention facility maintained by the City in order to meet with persons of interest.

Though the City submitted its application on time, it did not certify its compliance with these three conditions, which it deems illegal. In the last year, federal courts in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and California have struck down these or similar conditions, yet DOJ continues to insist NYC comply with them in order to receive its funding.

DOJ later announced it was distributing $200 million in JAG Program funds to jurisdictions that shared its commitment to “keeping criminal aliens off our streets and our law abiding citizens safe.”