Kilmartin and others beat DOJ over rule blocking ‘sanctuary city’ law-enforcement funding

R.I. ATTORNEY GENERAL Peter F. Kilmartin and eight other attorneys general have won a case in U.S. District Court against the U.S. Department of Justice, stopping a rule that would prevent
R.I. ATTORNEY GENERAL Peter F. Kilmartin and eight other attorneys general have won a case in U.S. District Court against the U.S. Department of Justice, stopping a rule that would prevent "sanctuary cities" from receiving the Byrne JAG grant, a federal law enforcement funding program. / BLOOMBERG NEWS FILE PHOTO/ANDREW HARRER

PROVIDENCE – R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and six other state attorneys general, as well as the District Attorney for New York City, have won a case against the U.S. Department of Justice in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to block federal restrictions related to immigration that were imposed on the Edward Byrne Memorial Assistance Grant program.

The decision will release roughly $767,000 in funds from what is called the Byrne JAG program to Rhode Island law enforcement agencies for fiscal 2017, money that had been put in escrow when the case went to trial.

The DOJ describes the Byrne JAG program as the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.

The DOJ had changed the program eligibility rules to bar local governments from imposing restrictions on federal-local sharing of immigrant information in an attempt to compel municipalities to in effect act as federal immigration personnel.

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Uncooperative municipalities have often been refereed to as “sanctuary cities,” a term that is supportive or pejorative depending on one’s politics. In August, Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung pledged to comply with the new rule, while other cities and mayors, such as Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, refused to comply.

Other municipalities in Rhode Island applied for funding, but refused to sign the agreement, with the intention of receiving the funding without being explicitly required to  cooperate and allow U.S. Department of Homeland Security to have unlimited access to local police stations and law-enforcement facilities to interrogate suspects.

The decision, if not later overturned, won’t require any of the cities to comply in that manner.

The suit against the DOJ from the eight attorneys general argued that the DOJ lacked the authority to impose new conditions on the Byrne JAG program, that the imposition of the rule violated the Administrative Procedures Act as it was not in accordance with the law and is arbitrary and argued that the implementation of the new restrictions violated the 10th Amendment – related to state’s rights – as the suit argued that the rule forced states and municipalities to comply with a rule that was “expansive and unconstitutional” interpretation of 8 U.S.C. § 1373 – a federal information-sharing law.

“This is a major victory for Rhode Island and other states as the Court clearly found the federal government cannot withhold – or threaten to withhold – law enforcement formula grant money to states and local communities for not certifying compliance with immigration conditions,” stated Kilmartin Friday. “The threat to withhold these funds was a blatant attempt by this Administration to force local law enforcement to operate effectively as Immigration and Customers Enforcement agents. Police are sworn to protect and serve ALL, and that oath cannot and will never be dictated by those with divisive political agendas.”

The nine eligible municipalities receiving the fiscal year 2017 Byrne JAG program grants are:

  • Providence: $211,879
  • Pawtucket: 57,224
  • Woonsocket: $46,801
  • City Falls: $29,286
  • Cranston: $24,465
  • Newport: $17,727
  • Warwick: $14,962
  • West Warwick: $13,331
  • East Providence: $12,693

The other states involved in the suit were Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Washington, along with New York City.

Chris Bergenheim is the PBN web editor. Email him at

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