Police grants and sanctuary cities: It's complicated

The very confusing issue of sanctuary cities just got a little more confusing

The very confusing issue of sanctuary cities just got a little more confusing. Just a couple of weeks after Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a speech on the Department of Justice’s resolve to continue to enforce laws requiring local law enforcement to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests for illegal aliens or face the loss of federal grant funds, a website that was started earlier this year to report on so-called sanctuary cities that were not following the laws was taken down because of inaccuracies in the information provided.

What hasn’t changed in the past couple of months is that the federal government is still on the path of requiring all grant applicants to comply with the ICE detainer requests or be denied these important federal funds. However, full enforcement of the funding restriction on sanctuary cities may be held up when the new federal budget is discussed because Congress appears to be divided on the issue.

As with most things, there are two sides to the argument. Many law enforcement agencies say their job will be made even more difficult if they follow the regulations, as it will mean less cooperation from immigrant communities as they attempt to investigate and prosecute crimes. Victims and witnesses won’t come forward with information or show up in court due to the fear of deportation. Trust that has been built up between law enforcement and the community will be damaged. But others agree with the federal government’s position that not complying with the laws decreases the safety of everyone in the community.


Some states and cities are doing what they can to comply, while others have filed lawsuits to fight it. Billions of dollars nationwide are hanging in the balance.

What does that mean for you, as you attempt to secure future grant funding for your agency’s needs? Will you be able to apply for COPS Hiring funds this year? Will you get your second-year funding for a project you have already started? 

To be honest, I’m not sure anyone really knows at this point. The new COPS grant opportunities haven’t been released yet, although there is no indication that they won’t be available this year. Once they are, it will be interesting to see what the requirements for eligibility are.

Of course, federal grants include much more than just the COPS Hiring Program that directly impacts a law enforcement agency. Others have impact throughout the community.

For instance, the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program – SCAAP – provides reimbursement funding to local law enforcement agencies, including corrections departments, for housing illegal aliens who have been arrested in their jails. This includes anyone who is not an American citizen, not just those from countries that are being addressed by the federal government’s new immigration policies. For those departments that utilize this program to help with the cost of incarceration, the amount of funding that could potentially be lost with the sanctuary cities policies is substantial.

Other federal programs that provide funding to law enforcement include those that address complex issues such as mental illness, drug addiction, juvenile crime, and domestic violence. Often these grant opportunities are collaborative efforts between police and local social service agencies, many of which are nonprofits that rely on such funding to serve their clients. The loss of this funding can have large-scale impacts on a community.

It appears there will be further discussion about the issue of sanctuary cities and federal funding, but the decision to comply with the detainer laws or not is highly controversial. Keep yourself informed as things progress so that you don’t lose out on this important funding.

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