POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

NJ Dems continue call for restoration of DOJ grants

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

It’s a fight that’s been going on for nearly a year.

“We raise our voices against what the Trump administration is trying to do, really trying to bully us into supporting policies that we outright disagree with in the city of Newark,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

“This is not just for Newark, it’s for all the Newarks across America,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell.

In July 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement that the department would only give funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program to cities and states that “… comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours-notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.” Adding “… these long overdue requirements will help us take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer.”

“We’re not going to stand by and acquiesce in the sanctuary cities to nullify federal immigration law if they want to receive federal grants. I don’t want to defund any jurisdiction, cities, states, but we want them to rethink. We want them to change their policies and start to cooperate with our ICE officers whose lives can be at risk,” Sessions said at a law enforcement event earlier this year.

The over $174 million in federal funds is money states use for various programs from law enforcement, to crime prevention and education, to drug treatment and enforcement.

“That helped us tremendously with technology and increased security around the courthouse, around the city, around our parks to make sure that our folks don’t look over their shoulders while they’re enjoying our facilities,” said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura.

Lawmakers have sent several letters to the Trump administration in the past year to release the funds, writing “… delaying these funds is punishing the law enforcement officers on the ground doing their jobs and trying to keep their communities safe.”

“The law enforcement officers, police, they need to be left alone,” Rep. Frank Pallone said.

“What in God’s name are they thinking,” asked Pascrell.

But the president says the safety of American citizens is his highest duty, and that’s why he has called on Congress to block the funds.

“Lawless sanctuary jurisdictions are nullifying federal law, obstructing immigration enforcement, and releasing thousands of criminal aliens into U.S. communities to prey on innocent victims. It’s absolutely terrible,” Trump said in one of his weekly messages in March. “We want our cities to be sanctuaries for Americans, not safe havens for criminals.”

New Jersey’s attorney general now joins several other states in suing the Department of Justice over the withholding of the funds, calling the move unconstitutional.

“This money not only is there, it’s been committed to these towns and the government has interceded,” Pascrell said. “Congress did not create this grant program to be held conditionally unless states gave into the federal extortion.”

Why was the news conference called a year after the decision was made? Rep. Donald Payne said they have to let the DOJ know they haven’t forgotten and that they’re going to continue to fight for the funds.