The U.S. Justice Department secretly revoked a notorious Trump-era policy targeting “sanctuary cities,” which called for millions to be withheld from cities, counties, and states if they declined to comply with federal immigration authorities.
Maureen Henneberg, acting director of the Office of Justice Programs, said in an internal memo that prior grant recipients, including recipients of the department’s famous $250 million annual grant programme for local law enforcement, would no longer be expected to comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a condition of funding.
She also directed workers to drop any pending Justice Department grant applications with identical strings attached and restart the procedure.
In the memo, Henneberg, who heads the department’s largest grant-making arm, said she had directed staff to “remove and review all requests describing immigration conditions or priority consideration elements or criteria.”
“These requests will be reposted, and grants will be reapplied,” she said.
It is one of a series of decisions by Attorney General Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s appointee, to break from policies set in place during former President Donald Trump’s administration. In another high-profile development, the Justice Department has stepped up investigations of U.S. police forces facing brutal accusations or racist practices.
Shortly after being sworn in, Biden reversed a Trump executive order that required the Department of Justice to compel cities that failed to inform federal immigration authorities when citizens were illegally arrested for criminal violations, including minor ones.
On April 14, Garland instructed the department to begin the transition.
LEGAL BATTLES PAUSED
The policy reversal represents a significant win for states and cities that were unable to access awards they won through the “Byrne JAG” Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants programme.
Named after a New York City police officer killed in action, the Byrne JAG grant programme is the leading provider of reimbursement to state and local law enforcement for a range of projects, from prosecution and correction services to opioid and mental health treatment facilities.
In fiscal year 2020, the programme spent over $253 million in grants.
Trump’s legal and illegal immigration crackdown was a centrepiece of his policy.
By implementing “sanctuary” policies, several cities and states opposed his attempts, claiming that strong coordination between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials would prevent immigrants from reporting crimes.
The struggle to withhold money from Byrne JAG led to several litigation as jurisdictions, including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, all sued the Justice Department on the grounds that withholding money was unconstitutional.
In one of those cases brought by New York State, New York City, and six other states, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sided with the Trump administration in February 2020 and ruled it was entitled to withhold millions in grant funds.
The plaintiff states appealed to the Supreme Court, but after Biden won the 2020 election, the appeal was later withdrawn.
In March, the Justice Department and the plaintiffs jointly requested a federal judge to place the matter on hold, until the department finished investigating the grant provisions at the centre of the lawsuit.
The New York Attorney General’s office said the state was unable to access more than $30 million in grant money from the Justice Department as a result of the ongoing lawsuits over the past four years.
According to the memo, the decision of the Justice Department to stop using immigration-related requirements would extend to all department grants as well as notifications posted by various other Justice Department offices awarding grants.
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