November 14, 2019

The ACLU of Rhode Island has filed a “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston in support of a legal challenge brought by the cities of Providence and Central Falls to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) policy conditioning the receipt of federal law enforcement funds on municipal collaboration with immigration officials.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge John McConnell, Jr., reaching the same conclusion as a number of other courts, ruled that the DOJ had no legal authority to attach these strings to the law enforcement grant program, known as Byrne JAG grants. The requirements imposed by the DOJ for obtaining the funds include allowing immigration officials unlimited access to police facilities to interrogate detainees at any time, and requiring municipalities, if requested by ICE, to provide 48 hours advance notice before releasing an individual.

The ACLU brief calls the imposition of those conditions part of a “relentless campaign by the Executive Branch to force state and local police to help detain and deport immigrants,” the impact of which would be to “dramatically undermine local communities’ ability to supervise their own police forces.” In supporting the lower court ruling, the ACLU brief states: “Congress has not authorized the [DOJ] to use JAG funds as leverage to coerce local police into helping arrest and deport their own residents,” and the DOJ’s “unprecedented statutory claims should be rejected.”

The court brief was filed by the ACLU and its Rhode Island Affiliate and the National Immigrant Justice Center, on behalf of themselves and several other non-profit civil rights organizations that serve immigrant communities across the country.

When the suit was filed last year, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa emphasized that abiding by the newly-established conditions would undermine their cities’ efforts to promote community policing and trust between residents and local law enforcement.

ACLU attorney Cody Wofsy said today: “The federal government’s campaign to threaten and coerce local law enforcement into the deportation business is illegal, as courts around the country have recognized.” ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown added: “We commend Providence and Central Falls for refusing to accede to the federal government’s unlawful demands and for filing this suit in order to protect their residents from heavy-handed ICE tactics.”

Oral argument on the appeal is expected to be heard in February 2020.

More information on the case, Providence v. Barr, can be found here.

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