Today at Newark City Hall, Congressmen Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ-06), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ-10), and Mayor Ras Baraka hammered the Trump administration for continuing to hold hostage Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance (Byrne JAG) Grants to force New Jersey’s compliance with the Trump administration’s radical, right-wing immigration agenda.
“President Trump has spent his first two years in office trying to divide us, especially when it comes to immigration,” said Rep. Pallone. “By holding funds hostage that are rightly owed to New Jersey, he is trying to pit communities against local law enforcement and neighbor against neighbor. I know that police in communities like Newark, Paterson, New Brunswick and Asbury Park understand how to do their jobs and how to interact with immigrants without creating distrust. The last thing New Jersey law enforcement needs is an extreme, cruel and incompetent Trump Justice Department telling them how to do their jobs. We will fight attempts by the Trump administration to withhold these funds in the courts, in Trenton and in Congress.”
“No one should ever play politics with our law enforcement, but this is exactly what Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are doing. Local law enforcement strategies should not be undermined by Trump forcing states and localities to enforce his cruel, draconian immigration policies. Like using children as pawns, holding local police hostage is despicable, and New Jersey is fighting back tooth and nail,” said Rep. Pascrell. “The value of the Byrne JAG program is felt in nearly every corner of the American criminal justice system. I applaud the efforts of Governor Murphy and Attorney General Grewal for working to free this money and highlighting the administration’s obstructionism. Trump and Sessions need to leave our law enforcement the hell alone so they can do their jobs.”
“Communities across the country are forced to make tough budget decisions every day. By forcing a false choice between abandoning our immigrant community or receiving federal law enforcement grants, the Trump administration has hurt every single New Jerseyan,” said Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. “Law enforcement grants provide a critical federal funding stream for our state and for states across the country. Any delay in these funds will punish law enforcement officers who work day in and day out to keep our communities safe.”
“We will not allow Newark to be pressured into hurting the immigrant communities that contribute so much to the life of our city,” said Mayor Baraka. “The Trump policy is insane and unconstitutional. If we were to go along with it, we would destroy the strong positive relationships we have built with immigrants and damage the ability of our police to get information needed to prevent crime and apprehend criminals. The policy of withholding law enforcement funds is counterproductive and unjust. We will not yield to blackmail and extortion.”
Last week, New Jersey filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice over its withholding of federal funds earmarked to Garden State law enforcement. The lawsuit alleges that the Trump administration’s embargo of these monies is illegal and seeks a court order to free them. The grants, known as the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, or Byrne JAG grants, are a critical resource for local police departments.
New Jersey received $4.27 million in Byrne JAG grant funds in 2016. Thirteen counties and 41 towns and municipalities were awarded $1.82 million in grant funding in the FY 2017 budget. Under estimates tabulated by the federal Bureau of Justice Affairs, New Jersey is set to receive $4.04 million in 2017. Therefore, as New Jersey’s lawsuit highlights, the state is being denied a total of $5,871,599 in critical law enforcement support that is being held captive on the altar of the Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies.
The Byrne JAG program allows states and local governments to support a broad range of activities to prevent and control crimes based on their own local needs and conditions. Grants can be used for state and local initiatives, technical assistance, training, personnel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, and information systems for criminal justice for any one or more of the following programs: (1) law enforcement; (2) prosecution and the courts; (3) prevention and education; (4) corrections and community corrections; (5) drug treatment; and (6) planning, evaluation, and technology improvement.
In January 2017 Trump signed an executive order on so-called sanctuary cities, which sought to withhold funds from cities that chose not to cooperate with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants.
While the constitutionality of the executive order has been disputed by many experts and scholars, the Justice Department has said it will not distribute the federal grants to any state or municipality that fails to meet three conditions related to federal civil immigration enforcement efforts. Among those conditions, according to the suit of which New Jersey is a plaintiff, is that jurisdictions must provide federal agents with access to state and local correctional facilities for questioning immigrants to find out if they have a right to be or remain in the United States.
In April 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the Trump administration was “us[ing] the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement,” in trying to coerce the states to carry out federal immigration policies as a condition of receiving Byrne JAG grants. The court reminded the Trump White House that “the power of the purse rests with Congress.” In response, the Sessions Justice Department refused to release the funds and has appealed.
The co-chair of the House Law Enforcement Caucus, Rep. Pascrell has been one of the foremost leaders in Congress in seeking to protect Byrne JAG and other key funding streams for state and local law enforcement. In November 2017, Pascrell led nine members of the New Jersey congressional delegation in pushing the Trump administration to release its Byrne JAG grant money. Later that month, Pascrell and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA-08) penned a bipartisan letter urging the Justice Department to end its embargo of $174 million in approved Byrne JAG funds earmarked for police departments throughout the country, arguing that the administration’s posture “jeopardizes [police departments’ ability] to maintain law and order and do their job effectively.” In December 2017, Pascrell and Reichert led 94 House of Representatives members demanding the release of all withheld Byrne JAG money.
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