The Justice Department is not paying $250 million in aid to localities while it fights a lawsuit by the city of Chicago over DOJ funding for “sanctuary cities.”
Dozens of jurisdictions have been frozen out of more than $250 million in federal grants to pay for law enforcement basics like Tasers, crime-fighting task forces, and officer overtime. Attorney General Jeff Sessions paused the nationwide funding stream in response to a federal lawsuit filed by the city of Chicago. The case argues that it is illegal for the Justice Department to force local governments to adopt tough-on-immigration policies in order to receive federal money, reports Slate and The Marshall Project. Sessions tried to withhold the money from the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program only from “sanctuary cities” like Chicago, which was supposed to get $2.1 million. A Justice Department spokesperson said the freeze affects one-fifth of the $1.3 billion in federal grants that last fall began trickling down to police departments, sheriffs, and prosecutors’ offices.
When a federal judge issued a national injunction against depriving sanctuary cities of JAG money, Session appealed and froze the whole program. During the the Obama administration in 2016, the DOJ inspector general warned cities to stop withholding residents’ immigration information from federal officials. To qualify for JAG funds, jurisdictions would have to prove they complied with federal law. Sessions enlarged the requirement, saying local officials must allow federal immigration agents access to local detention facilities and must give federal agents 48 hours’ notice when releasing undocumented immigrants from custody. Former Justice Department officials described the Sessions freeze as a public safety threat. Laurie Robinson, who ran the DOJ Office of Justice Programs in the Clinton and Obama administrations, described the freeze as a “tragedy,” adding, “I really find it ironic that an administration that is continually touting its support for front-line law enforcement officers is now withholding the chief funding support that the Justice Department offers to law enforcement.”