Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer. MyNewsLA.com Photo

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Department of Justice to block what he calls an unconstitutional effort to withhold crime-fighting grant funds from cities that fail to act as “an arm of federal civil immigration policy.”

The Justice Department recently issued new requirements for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, including that jurisdictions would not be eligible unless they provide 48 hours notice before they “release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.”

Feuer said he objected to the guidelines for several legal reasons, including that the Justice Department does not have the authority to impose rules on the grant because it was created by Congress.

The city attorney also said the guidelines were impractical because by law the city’s police department cannot hold someone past 48 hours unless an arrest falls over a weekend, making the guidelines unconstitutional.

“We’re suing to block the Trump Administration from unconstitutionally imposing its will on our city. The administration would put L.A. to the untenable choice of risking a key public safety grant or making LAPD an arm of federal civil immigration policy,” Feuer said. “The administration’s action is as ironic as it is unlawful, since the funds at stake support a model L.A. program targeting violent gang-related crime.”

The Los Angeles Police Department has a longstanding policy of not initiating contact with a person just to ascertain their immigration status. Since President Donald Trump took office in January and enacted a series of aggressive actions on illegal immigration, city leaders have repeatedly said they will not change their policies to have the LAPD enforce federal immigration law.

The city of Los Angeles received $1.55 million from the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program during the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, according to Feuer. The city has received more than $1 million annually since 1997 from the grant.

Feuer outlined his objections in a letter to the Justice Department earlier this month.

“Unlike state prisons or Los Angeles County jails, the city’s detention facilities are not used to house inmates serving post-conviction sentences. As such, because Los Angeles rarely, if ever, holds detainees for 48 hours’ time, it is not possible for the city, or other similarly situated cities, to comply with the 48-hour advance notice provision posted in the JAG solicitation, without detaining individuals beyond the point at which they are entitled to release,” Feuer wrote.

Applications for the grant are due by Sept. 5, and Feuer said repeated attempts by his office to get clarification from the Justice Department have not been sufficiently answered.

The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco, where the city intends to join similar lawsuits filed last week by the state and San Francisco.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the new policies as necessary to help fight illegal immigration when he announced them last month.

“So-called `sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said when he announced the new guidelines in July. “These policies also encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law.”

City Council President Herb Wesson said he supported Feuer’s lawsuit.

“We have a responsibility to the families of Los Angeles to always fight for their safety and protection,” Wesson said. “Our city is a beacon of light for the rest of the country because we do not compromise our values, regardless of what the federal government demands.”

–City News Service

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