Federal judge in Denver rules for Colorado in lawsuit against the DOJ

The U.S. Justice Department can’t withhold millions of dollars in federal funding to Colorado law enforcement agencies by attaching immigration-related terms and conditions to securing the grants, according to a federal judge’s ruling.

Senior U.S. District Judge John L. Kane ruled on Thursday that the justice department has overstepped its bounds by imposing immigration-related conditions to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant.

The DOJ in early 2019 notified Colorado that its 2018 grant — $2.7 million — was being withheld because the state objected to immigration language that the justice department attached to the grant as conditional terms. Colorado in turn filed a lawsuit against the justice department.

Among the DOJ conditions were:

  • Access by federal agents to state and local correctional facilities for the purpose of interrogating any “person believed to be an alien” in the U.S. will not be impeded.
  • The state shall provide 48 hours “advance notice” of scheduled release time of “any alien” in jurisdictional custody upon formal written request.
  • State and local governments are prohibited from “restricting communications” with federal immigration authorities regarding citizenship or immigration status.

Multiple states and cities also sued the DOJ for tying immigration-related conditions into the grants and Kane, in part, relied on other rulings from around the country as part of his order.

“Congress crafted the Byrne JAG program as a means of supporting local law enforcement,” Kane said in the ruling. “By imposing conditions on … grants for which it has no statutory authority, DOJ has exceeded the power carefully delegated to it by Congress to administer that program.”

Colorado has applied for, and received, Byrne funding from 2005 to 2017, with annual grants ranging from $1.5 to $4.7 million. The grant is used to support state and local law enforcement with funding for personnel, equipment, training and other needs.

Colorado, in its filing, claimed that it could not comply with immigration-related conditions “because it lacks the authority to force local entities to meet the conditions and has neither the funding nor the personnel needed to monitor local entities as the conditions require,” according to Thursday’s ruling.

Colorado was also concerned that agreeing to such language would erode “immigrant communities’ trust in law enforcement” making such communities less likely to report crime and cooperate in investigations.

“I am pleased that a federal judge has ruled that the Justice Department violated the law when it withheld federal public safety grants because our state would not comply with unlawful immigration-related conditions,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a written statement. “Withholding congressionally appropriated funds to state and local law enforcement agencies because they do not meet new conditions that are not authorized by Congress is an illegal overreach by the Justice Department. Today’s ruling is a victory for the rule of law, for law enforcement agencies in Colorado, and for public safety.”

Congress has considered and rejected statutory amendments placing immigration-related conditions on Byrne grants, Kane said in his ruling.

“In imposing immigration-related conditions that tie a state’s Byrne JAG funding to its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, DOJ went beyond what Congress permitted and intended it to do,” Kane ruled.

Colorado is entitled to permanent injunctive relief and the parties have been ordered to draft a remedy and submit it to the court no later than May 15.

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