The state of Colorado and the U.S. Department of Justice have agreed to end a lawsuit over the immigration-related conditions that the Trump administration placed on law enforcement funding, after both parties last month asked a federal judge to rescind his finding of a constitutional violation.
U.S. District Court Senior Judge John L. Kane, in an order issued on Tuesday, agreed to amend his judgment from last year that the Justice Department’s requirement for states and localities to cooperate with the federal government on immigration enforcement infringed on Congress’s spending authority. Kane rescinded the finding “to avoid the unnecessary resolution of a constitutional question.”
As a result, the Justice Department, which had appealed Kane’s order, agreed to drop its request to the federal appellate court given the change.
The swift resolution came after the Biden administration repealed the restrictions on law enforcement grants to “sanctuary cities” that refused to use their own resources to carry out immigration laws. Attorney General Phil Weiser on Tuesday celebrated an end to the lawsuit.
“We sued the Justice Department in the previous administration because it broke the law when it withheld federal public safety grants for Colorado because our state would not comply with unlawful immigration-related conditions,” said Weiser.
Initially, Colorado sued the department after a 2017 decision to only award money through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program to jurisdictions that shared immigration-related information with the federal government and allowed access to detention facilities. The Byrne JAG program provides funds for law enforcement personnel, equipment, training and other programming. In fiscal year 2016, the state received $2.8 million directly, and law enforcement agencies in Colorado received a total of $4.3 million.
"So-called 'sanctuary' policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.
Colorado objected to the conditions placed on its 2018 grant, and the Justice Department withheld the state’s allocation. The state believed it lacked the authority to force local law enforcement agencies to carry out immigration policy, and also that adherence to the department’s terms would diminish immigrant communities’ trust in law enforcement.
In April 2020, Kane sided with the state, finding the immigration requirements “are not sufficiently related to the purpose of the Byrne JAG program to assist state and local law enforcement in addressing the most urgent criminal justice matters in their own communities.”
The federal government asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit to review the case, which had been set for oral argument. But on April 26 of this year, the attorney general’s office and the Justice Department jointly told Kane that avoiding a fight over the constitutionality of the federal government’s actions would “further the public interest.”
“This case presents the question whether the federal government — when it provides grants to state and local law enforcement — may impose certain immigration-related conditions on the funding,” the parties wrote. “[E]ven without the constitutional ruling, Colorado will have the full benefit of the practical effect of this Court’s judgment.”
While the legal question will remain unaddressed, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Wednesday characterized the Trump administration's actions as "patently unconstitutional."
“I’m pleased to see Attorney General Weiser reach an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to end their litigation and return to the established rule of law. Denver will continue to stand beside our immigrant residents and maintain out status as a welcoming city," he said in a statement.
Once the Justice Department released the funds under dispute, Denver received $694,535.