U.S. appeals court judges side with Providence, Central Falls in immigration case

BOSTON — A panel of three appeals court judges on Tuesday upheld a previous ruling that the U.S. Department of Justice cannot compel the cities of Providence and Central Falls to comply with federal immigration authorities as a condition of receiving federal public safety grants.

The cities sued the Department of Justice in August 2018 for requiring that recipients of a federal criminal-justice grant, known as the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, cooperate with authorities in the enforcement of federal immigration law.

Providence and Central Falls are both self-described “sanctuary cities” and do not direct their police forces to carry out federal immigration policy.

The decision issued Tuesday by judges with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston states that the statutory formula outlining how the grant can be allocated doesn’t include authorization for the Department of Justice to impose such conditions on the recipients.

“…it simply does not allow the DOJ to impose by brute force conditions on Byrne JAG [Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant] grants to further its own unrelated law enforcement priorities,” the decision reads. “In fact, the express authorization for specific deviations from the formula strongly implies that Congress did not intend to give the DOJ the power to advance its own priorities by means of grant conditions.”

The decision upholds a 2019 ruling by Judge John J. McConnell Jr. in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island.

It stands in contrast, though, to a recent ruling in a separate but similar case.

Last month, three judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan sided with the Department of Justice in a lawsuit filed against the department by Rhode Island and six other states over the criminal justice grants.

A spokeswoman for the city of Providence wrote in an email that both Providence and Central Falls were happy with the outcome of their case.

In the year the lawsuit was filed, Providence stood to receive $212,112 in funding from the criminal justice grant and Central Falls was supposed to receive $28,677. The Department of Justice withheld the money until McConnell ordered it released to the two cities in 2019.

“Both the City of Providence and the City of Central Falls are pleased that the First Circuit found DOJ’s attempts to require our police departments to be agents of a federal immigration system to be unlawful and not authorized by Congress,” Patricia Socarras, spokeswoman for Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office, wrote in an email.

The Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

mlist@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7121

On Twitter: @madeleine_list

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