In an important victory for immigrants' rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston has ruled illegal a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) policy conditioning the receipt of federal law enforcement funds on municipal collaboration with immigration officials. The ACLU had filed a “friend of the court” brief in the case in support of the cities of Providence and Central Falls, which had filed a suit againstn the DOJ, arguing that the agency 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 included 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. Last June, U.S. District Court Judge John McConnell, Jr. ruled the federal government's mandate unlawful, and the First Circuit today agreed.

The ACLU brief called 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.”

In striking down the federal conditions, the appellate court concluded that "the DOJ took an impermissible shortcut when it attempted to impose the challenged conditions on the Cities' FY2017 Bryne JAG grants -- conditions that Congress has not vested the DOJ with authority to impose."

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.

More information about the case can be found here.