LA could lose federal funds for refusing new immigration rules. But is that legal?

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Los Angeles officials on Monday questioned the legality of tougher rules announced last week that would require cities to work more closely with federal immigration officials in order to receive public safety related grants.

The city each year typically receives federal funds, known as Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grants, to fight gang crime, as long as the city meets certain requirements.

But Department of Justice officals last week notified cities around the country that they planned to release new requirements. In order to receive Byrne grants in the future, local governments would need to provide information to immigrations officials about undocumented immigrants in their custody, as well as comply with requests to detain immigrants longer than typically required, federal officials said.

Yolanda Chavez, the assistant city administrative officer, told members of the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday that “since this notice was issued last Tuesday, I had discussions with the city attorney and they are reviewing the legality of these new requirements.”

• RELATED STORY: LA leaders approve $2 million for legal fund to defend immigrants facing deportation

It is unclear whether the Department of Justice is able to unilaterally issue these requirements, she said.

Such grants are considered “formula,” rather than “competitive” grants, and any changes to the grants’ rules have traditionally required the approval of Congress, Chavez said.

Similar rules for other Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security grants proposed in President Donald Trump’s budget plan earlier this year are still awaiting approval from Congress, Chavez said.

Chavez also noted that the change to the Byrne grant requirements is the only one that has officially been announced so far.

“That is really the first notice we’ve seen, changing the guidelines for criminal justice grants,” Chavez said.

The new requirements for the Byrne grant program have yet to be officially released, city officials said last week.

Councilman Paul Krekorian, who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, noted that even without the “threats and extortion” associated with the Justice Department grants, the Trump administation’s proposed budget cuts alone “would so devastate so many areas of fundamental services to our people that there is no way this city could expect to make up for it, and that’s just in terms of services to vulnerable Angelenos.”

• RELATED STORY: Eric Holder, LAPD chief say ‘sanctuary state’ bill will restore trust between immigrants, police


The $1.9 million the city of Los Angeles received last year for the Byrne grant is just a slice of the $118 million in Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security funds the city typically receives each year, according to a city report presented to the committee.

Those funds are part of a larger $2.8 billion pot of federal money that flowed last year to city departments and other agencies that service Angelenos, according to estimates by city officials.

Trump’s budget proposal calls for deep cuts — amounting to tens of millions of dollars — to funding used by the city to provide affordable housing, jobs programs, security at the harbor, DNA-based crime solving and programs to revitalize and remove blight from neighborhoods, the report said.

Chavez said Monday the proposed cuts in Trump’s budget would also affect services for homeless Angelenos. Proposed cuts to Medicaid would remove a primary source of funding used to provide health-related services to the homeless, and cuts floated for housing programs would reduce the amount of housing vouchers available to those struggling to pay rent, Chavez said.

But Chavez, Krekorian and others emphasized Monday that Congress has until October 1 to adopt a budget, and early House legislation seems to indicate funding may be restored to many of the programs cut by Trump.

The Budget and Finance Committee will take up the issue again in two weeks, with city advisers reporting on how the latest budget proposals being considered in Congress would affect the city.

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