Cities sue Justice Dept. over immigration-related policy

August 9, 2018 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Two Rhode Island cities filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday over conditions placed on public safety grants that they say would force their police officers to act as federal immigration agents.

Providence and Central Falls filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

The federal government is requiring cities receiving public safety grants to notify federal agents when immigrants in the country illegally are about to be released from police detention. Federal agents also would have to be granted access to law enforcement facilities to question immigrants.


Several states, including Rhode Island, and cities have filed similar lawsuits. A Justice Department spokesman called it a disservice to the states’ law-abiding citizens.

“By choosing not to comply with a federal statute and other grant conditions that promote cooperation between local jurisdictions and federal immigration authorities, political leaders deliberately choose to protect criminal aliens in their custody and to make their communities less safe,” spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement.

“The Department of Justice will continue to fight for the rule of law, to protect public safety, and to keep criminal aliens off the streets,” the statement said.

Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, a Democrat, said he hopes the court will order they can receive the funding without requiring police officers to “become agents of a broken federal immigration system.” He said the police department will not sacrifice the community’s trust by doing that.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, also a Democrat, said federal officials have taken the stance that either grant recipients adopt the same “harsh anti-immigrant policies as the federal government, or you don’t get federal grant funding for critical anti-violence programs.”

“We unequivocally reject this false choice,” he said. “We will not allow the federal government to weaponize federal grant funding in an effort to advance this administration’s agenda.”

Friday is the deadline to accept the funds that were awarded with the new conditions, they said. Providence was awarded more than $200,000 for fiscal year 2017. Central Falls was awarded nearly $30,000.

Providence has used the funding awarded in past years to pay for a bilingual liaison to work with families and pay for overtime for enforcement patrols. Central Falls has paid for technology upgrades. Police chiefs from both cities said these conditions shouldn’t be attached to grants that are crucial to police operations.

“I’ve seen firsthand that you can fight crime effectively while also treating immigrant communities and families with the greatest respect,” said Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements.