Polis and AG Sue Federal Government Over Public Safety Dollars Tied To Immigration Enforcement

March 12, 2019
Photo: Polis 2 | Sue Trump Administration Sanctuary City
Gov. Jared Polis announces a lawsuit against the federal Justice Department for withholding grant money bound for state police departments, March 12, 2019.

Colorado’s governor and attorney general say President Trump is violating the constitution by withholding grant money from the state over the state’s immigration enforcement.

Gov. Jared Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against the Trump administration for $2.7 million in public safety money they say is being illegally withheld.

The money comes from the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program and was slated to be used on things like police radios in Durango and Yuma, drug treatment programs, victim and witness protection and mentoring for at-risk youth in Chaffee County.

“There's nothing in federal law that would allow Byrne to be withheld over state enforcement of immigration policies,” Polis said.

The White House has not released the money because Colorado has not met unrelated immigration enforcement conditions, Polis said.

The lawsuit raises two constitutional issues with Trump’s actions: First, Congress makes the law, not the President, Weiser said. The “special conditions” placed on the money were not passed by Congress — and are therefore not law — so the Trump administration can’t use them to oversee state law enforcement policies, the two argued.

Second, the federal government is violating the 10th Amendment by commandeering state and local law enforcement to enforce its immigration laws, Weiser said.

The issue is not about immigration, Polis said. It’s about state sovereignty.

“These special conditions are merely the Trump administration’s attempts to bully states and local law enforcement into spending our time and resources doing the bidding of Washington D.C. politicians rather than protecting our local communities,” Polis said

The state says courts in Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois and California have ruled the Trump administration is violating the constitution by withholding the funds to other places.

In October 2018, Denver successfully fought a U.S. Department of Justice directive that withheld federal dollars to the city because Denver declared itself a so-called sanctuary city. DOJ tried to tie grant funding for law enforcement to whether a city cooperated with federal law officials on immigration enforcement, but a federal judge in August last year said DOJ could not withhold federal grant dollars because of the city’s unwillingness to cooperate.

Polis said the latest federal action represents a dangerous precedent. If Colorado allows the President to dictate state policies on law enforcement, Polis said, it is a slippery slope toward the President dictating other state concerns like healthcare.

The latest lawsuit challenges the grant-withholding policy statewide.

“Federal law is not subject to the whim of the President,” Polis said. “It’s very important that we send the message that neither this administration nor any administration can try to use the withholding of fundings as an illegal way to enforce their own policy priorities.”