LOS ANGELES – City Attorney Mike Feuer today announced that his office has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking an injunction, “…to prevent an arm of the Executive Branch of the United States Government from unconstitutionally seeking to wield authority it does not have to advance policy objectives it cannot lawfully effectuate—all at the potential expense of public safety in Los Angeles and other cities….”
The suit alleges that it is unconstitutional for DOJ to impose civil immigration-related conditions on a formula-based program enacted by Congress to assist state and local law enforcement to prevent and reduce violent crime.
On July 25, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that pursuant to an Executive Order issued by President Trump, new immigration compliance requirements would be placed on all Byrne JAG grant applications. Jurisdictions that do not change their policies to align with these new requirements would be ineligible for the funds.
“We’re suing to block the Trump Administration from unconstitutionally imposing its will on our city. The Administration would put L.A. to the untenable choice of risking a key public safety grant or making LAPD an arm of federal civil immigration policy,” said Feuer. “The Administration’s action is as ironic as it is unlawful, since the funds at stake support a model L.A. program targeting violent gang-related crime.”
“We have a responsibility to the families of Los Angeles to always fight for their safety and protection,” said Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson. “Our city is a beacon of light for the rest of the country because we do not compromise our values, regardless of what the federal government demands.”
Each year, DOJ awards states and cities the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG), federal crime prevention funds used to support local law enforcement. These grants are awarded through a formula based on population and crime statistics. Since 1997, the City of Los Angeles has received over $1 million in JAG funding annually including $1.8 million for the 2016 fiscal year. This year, L.A. is eligible to receive $1.9 million, to be shared with the City and the County. Approximately $800,000 in Byrne JAG funding this year has been used to assist in funding to reduce gang activity in Los Angeles.
Applications for current Byrne JAG funding for the fiscal year 2017 were released on August 3, 2017 and due by September 5, 2017, and specifically require broad federal access to local jails for federal civil immigration purposes, and compel 48 hours’ notice to federal immigration officials before a detainee is released from custody.
The lawsuit cites numerous grounds on which these conditions are unconstitutional. It alleges DOJ has no authority to impose the conditions at all, because only Congress can attach substantive conditions to federal grants established by the Legislature. The lawsuit also points out multiple reasons the conditions violate Congress’s intent in creating the grant program, which supports local criminal law enforcement, not civil federal immigration efforts. Further, the lawsuit notes that the 48-hour condition can be read to require Los Angeles to violate the 4thAmendment rights of arrestees by effectively requiring LAPD to detain these individuals beyond the time they otherwise would be released.
The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco, where Los Angeles intends to join the California Attorney General, the City of San Francisco and others in challenging the new conditions.
Beginning Friday, August 4, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office contacted DOJ by telephone, email and letter, seeking to clarify the 48-hour condition. (The City Attorney submitted this letter (LINK) on August 7, 2017.) To date, DOJ has not issued any clarification.