On Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, Iowa City joined more than 40 others cities, counties and municipal agencies across the nation and 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 the County of Santa Clara, 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, or 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.

Many cities and counties around the country have decided that limiting their involvement in federal immigration enforcement 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—including major cities like Chicago—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.

“It is our belief that it is absolutely essential for the public safety of our community that all people, no matter their status, feel comfortable communicating and working with our Police Department,” Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said. “We do not want to risk undermining the relationships our officers have built and the critical roles those relationships play in keeping Iowa City safe.”

In January 2017, the Iowa City City Council passed a resolution reaffirming the public safety function of local law enforcement, stating that the Iowa City Police Department would not take action to detect undocumented people living in Iowa City, or use public resources to enforce federal immigration law.

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

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

Date of publication

Thursday, August 31, 2017