Support for Chicago’s Bid to Preserve Local Control Over Law Enforcement Policy

Local government amicus brief challenges unconstitutional federal grant conditions.

ARTICLE | Sep 6, 2017

On August 31, 2017, 37 cities, counties, and municipal agencies across the nation plus five local government-related public interest groups filed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The brief, authored by Santa Clara County, California, in City of Chicago v. Sessions, urges the court to grant the city of Chicago’s motion for a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of new federal grant conditions recently announced by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

The new DOJ conditions target the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, the leading source of federal grant funds for law enforcement, crime prevention, correctional, prosecution, indigent defense, and crime victim and witness programs. The new conditions would disqualify state and local governments from receiving these funds unless they agree to assist the federal government in enforcing federal immigration law. The amicus brief argues on behalf of local governments nationwide that these unconstitutional and unlawful conditions undermine the ability of local law enforcement agencies to carry out their own considered judgments about how best to keep their communities safe.

The diverse group of local government entities and organizations that joined the amicus brief argue that local governments must maintain discretion to develop law enforcement policies tailored to the needs of their communities. Many cities and counties around the country have decided that limiting their involvement in federal immigration enforcement best promotes public safety by empowering all community members to report crimes and serve as witnesses, avoiding creating a class of “silent victims” who feel local law enforcement doesn’t serve them. In fact, the brief cites evidence that communities where local police do not engage in immigration enforcement have lower crime rates than those that do.

DOJ’s new grant conditions would force local governments to either abandon the policies that they have adopted to increase community trust and lower crime rates, or lose their main source of federal funding for critical law enforcement programs that help achieve these goals.

The cities, counties, and organizations that signed the brief are:

Santa Clara County, California; Austin, Texas; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Chelsea, Massachusetts; Denver, Colorado;  the District of Columbia; El Paso County, Texas; Houston, Texas; the International City/County Management Association; the International Municipal Lawyers Association; Iowa City, Iowa; Ithaca, New York; King County, Washington; Lawrence, Massachusetts; Los Angeles, California; Madison, Wisconsin; Menlo Park, California; the Metropolitan Area Planning Council; the National Association of Counties; the National League of Cities; New York, New York; Oakland, California; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; Providence, Rhode Island; Rochester, New York; Sacramento, California; Salinas, California; San Francisco City and County, California; San José, California; Santa Ana, California; Santa Cruz County, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Seattle, Washington; Somerville, Massachusetts; Sonoma, California; Syracuse, New York; Travis County, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; Union City, New Jersey; The United States Conference of Mayors; and West Hollywood, California.

Download a copy of the brief here.

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