Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he has been lobbying President Donald Trump’s administration to avoid losing out on as much as $132 million in federal law enforcement grants over the next three years due to the department’s immigration policies.
During recent trips to Washington D.C., McDonnell said he has met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John F. Kelly — now Trump’s chief of staff — as well as Congress members to urge against any restrictions or cuts to future law enforcement grants.
The Trump administration has begun cracking down on so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions that it says protect undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes while undermining the nation’s laws.
On Thursday Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to four cities — including two in California — threatening to deny federal crime fighting aid if the cities don’t step up efforts to help detain and deport people living in the country illegally.
The targeted cities — which have all struggled with crime — are Stockton, San Bernardino, Baltimore and Albuquerque, New Mexico. All expressed interest in the Justice Department’s new Public Safety Partnership, federal officials said. The program provides assistance from federal agents, analysts and technology to find solutions to crime.
While the Justice Department did not target any communities in L.A. County in its latest move to punish so-called sanctuary cities, McDonnell has said the county’s limited cooperation with federal immigration officers strikes a necessary balance between public safety and public trust.
“It would have a tremendous negative financial impact on the department, not only the department — the region,” McDonnell said in a recent phone interview of the potential loss of resources.
The bulk of federal grant funds that McDonnell fears could ultimately be in question — $105 million of the $132 million — would come from DHS for the continued development of a system to enhance radio and broadband communication for police, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency responders in the county. The Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS), which has been “in the works” since the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, would also improve communication between local agencies and their state and federal partners.
“It allows various departments to communicate with each other, particularly during times of emergency but on a regular basis as well,” McDonnell said.
New rules for crime-fighting grant
For now, only a small fraction of the $132 million in federal grants that the Sheriff’s Department would expect to benefit from in the next three years appears to be in jeopardy. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced new conditions last week for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants Program (Byrne JAG), a crime-fighting program that helps communities target their most pressing needs.
Los Angeles County received $1.17 million in Byrne JAG funds for drug enforcement, education and prevention for 2017, according to county documents.
L.A. County’s Office of County Counsel is still reviewing these new conditions to determine if the Sheriff’s Department would be considered compliant, said L.A. County Assistant Sheriff Eddie Rivero, who is McDonnell’s point person on immigration matters. The DOJdeclined to comment specifically on the Sheriff’s Department’s policies.
One of the conditions requires jurisdictions to allow federal immigration officers into detention facilities. While the Sheriff’s Department allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to interview certain inmates in jails and to pick them up at the time of their release, it restricts the agency’s access to those with serious offenses specified under the state’s Trust Act — though it’s not required to do so.
The Sheriff’s Department believes that limiting ICE’s access to these serious offenders helps it continue “to build trust within the community,” Rivero said.
Some immigrant rights advocates argue the sheriff should not cooperate with ICE at all.
Federal funding ‘critical’ for safety
Besides the Byrne JAG grants, sheriff’s officials say they’re concerned that similar conditions could also BE placed on other federal grant programs the department has been benefitting from. If so, a DOJ program that provides some reimbursement to state and local governments for the costs of incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens could also be at risk. Grant funds benefitting the Los Angeles Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, and the Los Angeles Joint Regional Taskforce, which is a regional anti-terrorism effort, might also be impacted, officials said.
“Federal grant funding is critical for the safety of our communities,” Rivero said in a written statement. “The loss of these funds would be detrimental to advancements in technology, the fight against terrorism, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, and many other vital programs.”
The department would have to seek other sources, such as state and county funding, if these funds were no longer available, Rivero said.
Complicating matters is state Senate Bill 54, known as the “sanctuary state” bill, which would prohibit the use of state and local public resources to aid ICE agents in deportation actions. That bill has been passed by the state Senate and is making it’s way through the Assembly.
McDonnell noted that his primary concern is not financial but about keeping and maintaining the public’s trust.
“If we lose that, we put the safety of everyone in all of our communities at greater risk,” he said.