Polis and Weiser

Gov. Jared Polis, joined by Attorney General Phil Weiser, announces March 12 a lawsuit will be filed against the Trump administration over a $2.7 million public safety grant.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser have sued the Trump administration over denial of a public safety grant of $2.7 million in a dispute over immigration.

The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, saying that the administration is illegally withholding the funds because it is unhappy with Colorado's immigration enforcement policies.

The money, granted under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, is intended to pay for drug treatment, crime victim and witness protection programs; law enforcement equipment and technology, including police radios and body armor; and public safety education.

The problem, the Democrats said, is that Congress appropriated the money, and the Trump administration has no right to unilaterally deny the funds, particularly under the “special conditions” outlined by the president. Those conditions apply to immigration policy, not laws set forth by Congress, Polis said.

Those conditions apply to immigration policy, not laws set forth by Congress, Polis said.

As to the specifics of those conditions, Polis refused to say, despite repeated questions from the media. He claimed the reasons "don't matter."

The special conditions, issued in 2017 by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, require that "cities provide immigration officials access to prisons and suspects, advanced notice when undocumented immigrants [are] to be released from prison and [to] share a person's immigration status."

Colorado is entitled to these funds, Polis said during a Tuesday press conference, surrounded by Weiser and eight members of the House.

The state accepted those grant funds by letter on Oct. 15, 2018. But on Jan. 27, 2019, a U.S. Department of Justice staffer said Colorado had been "prematurely" awarded the grant. On March 7, that same official — Kathy Mason, the state policy manager for the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance — told a staffer with the state Division of Criminal Justice that because Colorado would not agree to the special conditions, the grant award would not be forthcoming.

"This is an attempt to bully states" into doing the bidding of Washington politicians, Polis said.

Colorado is not the first to challenge the Trump administration's attempts to block federal public safety funding tied to immigration rules. Courts in Pennsylvania, New York and California, as well as the Seventh Circuit Court in Chicago, have ruled the Trump administration violated the U.S. Constitution by withholding such funds. 

Forcing Colorado law enforcement to carry out the Trump administration agenda on immigration would stoke mistrust between police officers and immigrants, making Colorado less safe, Polis said.

Weiser added that the executive branch has no authority to make the law and that the denial of funds is a violation of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forbids the federal government from commandeering state and local law enforcement, in this case, to do the bidding of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"The federal government is seeking to coerce Colorado," Weiser said.

State Rep. Adrienne Benavidez of Denver, who stood with Polis and Weiser during the press conference, told Colorado Politics she raised this issue with Weiser a couple of weeks ago.

The conditions set forth by the Trump administration are improper and unrelated to the grant, she said.

Lawmakers pass laws all the time on grants with conditions, but Congress never attached those immigration conditions to the grant, she added.

The program at issue is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice with funds appropriated by Congress. Bryne was a 22-year-old New York City police officer who was murdered in 1988 while protecting an immigrant who had complained about crime in his Jamaica, Queens, neighborhood and whose home had been firebombed. Byrne was assassinated sitting outside of the immigrant's home; his four alleged killers were caught a week later and convicted of his murder, which was ordered by a local drug dealer.

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