Dear Attorney General Sessions:
We write in opposition to the Department of Justice's (DOJ) decision to add compliance with federal immigration priorities as a factor in receiving critical law enforcement grants, including the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) Program and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program. These funds are vital to law enforcement's efforts to keep our communities safe. We strongly urge the DOJ to remove any certification requirements or grant preferences related to federal immigration priorities, so as not to impact the ability of our state and local officers to protect their communities.
The COPS Hiring and Byrne JAG programs are the cornerstone of our federal justice assistance programs. Since their inception, these critical federal funding streams provide state and local law enforcement with necessary resources to form vital partnerships among communities and law enforcement officers, prevent and reduce crime and terrorism, and develop and implement problem-solving and crime prevention programs nationwide. These grants provide funding for the implementation of state and local initiatives, technical assistance, training, personnel, and equipment.
As you know, DOJ was scheduled to disburse over $257 million in Byrne JAG funds to each state and six territories in the United States. To date the DOJ has not disbursed these funds. We are concerned that additional delays in providing these funds will undermine state and local law enforcement's efforts to keep our communities safe. We understand the cause of the delay is related to litigation over the new federal immigration law requirements DOJ placed on potential Byrne JAG recipients; however, delaying these funds is punishing the law enforcement officers on the ground doing their jobs and trying to keep their communities safe. In fact, any delay in getting these much-needed resources to law enforcement jeopardizes their ability to maintain law and order and do their jobs effectively. As a result, communities across our nation remain more at risk every day because state and local officers don't have access to these funds. Therefore, we urge you to release these funds as soon as possible.
Further, we understand the DOJ gave preference to COPS Hiring Program applications that certified compliance with federal immigration priorities. This type of preference penalizes law enforcement and the citizens they serve in order to force a policy change outside of law enforcement's control. It is the civilian local governments -- not police departments -- who make the laws. Law enforcement officers do not have the luxury of picking and choosing which laws to enforce, nor should they.
These critical federal funding streams were intended to ensure that underfunded and understaffed police departments have the staff and resources necessary to maintain public safety. However, making receipt of these grants contingent on compliance with federal immigration priorities puts these same local departments, who are already struggling due to a lack of resources, in a position where they cannot effectively do their job.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to working with you to support local law enforcement and ensure they have the resources needed to keep all of us safe.