BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) — The U.S. Department of Justice is continuing its fight to deny federal grants to police in Providence and Central Falls because the cities don’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
Deputy Associate U.S. Attorney General Brian Pandya argued the case Wednesday before a panel of three judges on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. The Justice Department is appealing a lower court judge’s decision in favor of Providence.
“Grant recipients should not be undermining federal law enforcement priorities,” Pandya told the judges.
Cutting federal funds to so-called “sanctuary cities” was a campaign promise by Republican President Donald Trump in 2016, and his Justice Department has been attempting to fulfill it for nearly three years.
Providence and Central Falls have so far been successful in fighting the change in policy, which requires that cities cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in certain ways to be eligible for federal grants.
The two cities sued the Justice Department when it was led by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and won at federal district court in Providence. The DOJ, now led by William Barr, has appealed the case to the appeals court.
The oral arguments Wednesday revolved around whether the DOJ was legally within its right to put three “special conditions” on Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants, known as Byrne JAG, which are given to local police departments.
The conditions, which Providence and Central Falls have said they will not follow, require local police departments to give notice to immigration officials before releasing a “potentially removable alien” from their custody. It also requires them to allow federal agents access to interview undocumented immigrants while in custody.
Matt Jerzyk, the city solicitor for Central Falls, said the federal government is trying to “deputize our police departments as agents of the immigration system.”
“The Byrne JAG grant is designed for police departments to determine their own local law enforcement priorities, as opposed to what the federal government wants local police departments to do,” Jerzyk said outside court after the hearing.
Inside the courtroom, Providence city solicitor Jeff Dana argued that the 2006 Byrne JAG law calls for a specific grant formula, and does not mention any special conditions that can change the formula or be placed on the funding.
But Pandya pointed to a separate statute, also passed in 2006, that gives assistant attorney generals the power to impose “special conditions on all grants.”
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has repeatedly said that the city will not cooperate with ICE, and the police department has an explicit policy barring officers from honoring “administrative detainers” from ICE.
Administrative detainers are requests from ICE asking local police to hold a person in their custody for up to 48 hours so that ICE can retrieve them for civil immigration proceedings such as deportation.
The Justice Department released more than $200,000 in grants to Providence and $28,000 to Central Falls after the lower court decision by Rhode Island U.S. District Judge Jack McConnell, according to Dana.
The panel of appeals court judges — Judge David Barron, retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter and Judge Bruce Selya — are expected to render a written decision on the appeal in the coming months.