The cities of Providence and Central Falls—and in a separate suit, the state of Rhode Island—are taking the Department of Justice and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to court over its manipulation of federal grant funds to support the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration agenda.
The grant in dispute is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, otherwise known as the Byrne JAG, which Providence has historically used to finance a bilingual police liaison through the Family Service of Rhode Island. Central Falls used its Byrne JAG funds to help its police department bounce back from the city’s 2011 bankruptcy.
In order for either city to accept funds awarded for the 2017 fiscal year – amounting to $212,112 for Providence and $28,677 for Central Falls – they will have to meet new stipulations set by the DOJ. These include verified compliance with a federal statute that prohibits restrictions on cities’ sharing of immigration status information, unlimited access for DHS officials to interrogate detained individuals, and giving DHS a 48-hour notice prior to the release of detained people, which “would require detaining residents longer than is permissible under the Fourth Amendment,” according to a release Thursday. The deadline to accept Byrne JAG funds under these conditions is Friday, making both city’s suits a last-ditch effort to avoid complicity in the DHS agenda.
“This suit, which we are proactively filing,” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza declared at a press event on Thursday, “accuses federal officials of forcing jurisdictions into an untenable position of either accepting unlawful and unconstitutional conditions that diminish our ability to set our own law enforcement priorities and protect our community, or forfeit Byrne JAG funding, and as a consequence, undermine the very programs that this funding supports.”
Elorza added, “we will not allow the federal government to weaponize federal grant funding in an effort to advance this administration’s agenda.”
In addition to the suit filed on behalf of both cities Thursday, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin announced on Tuesday that Rhode Island would join six other states (New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington) in a suit opposing these potential funding cuts. Several other cities, such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, have filed similar suits.
None of the speakers on Thursday mentioned whether the announcement constitutes Providence or Central Falls as sanctuary cities. According to a WPRI report last year, Sessions has narrowly defined sanctuary cities as those municipalities which explicitly prohibit city employees from sharing immigration information with federal officials. Although Mayor Elorza has described Providence as a sanctuary city previously, and while the city has a policy barring police officers from asking about residents’ immigration status, it does not explicitly prohibit anyone from sharing that data with the federal government.
However, officials from both cities hoped Thursday’s suit demonstrated that they will not actively follow Sessions’ line, either. Mayor Diossa declared that Sessions wants Central Falls’ police officers to “serve as agents of a broken federal immigration system. What the Department of Justice is asking us to do is not justice. It goes against everything we stand for as a city, as a state, as a country.”