Iowa City joins more than 40 cities supporting Chicago suit against Department of Justice

Lawsuit challenges loss of federal grants if law enforcement doesn't follow new immigration law

City Hall is shown in Iowa City on Oct. 1, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
City Hall is shown in Iowa City on Oct. 1, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — On Thursday, Iowa City became one of more than 40 cities across the nation to join in supporting Chicago’s request that the U.S. Department of Justice not withhold a federal grant for law enforcement if city officials decide not help the federal government enforce federal immigration law.

In August, the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit in Northern Illinois District Court against the Department of Justice after the agency announced it would withhold federal grants for law enforcement agencies if they continue “sanctuary city” policies and not crack down on illegal immigration.

The funding at stake is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program that allows local governments to buy law enforcement equipment. New Department of Justice rules detail that local agencies give federal immigration authorities access to jails and notify them 48 hours before they release an individual wanted on an immigration detainer.

Amicus Brief

The city of Chicago argues the rules take autonomy away from local jails and infringe on constitutional rights of inmates.

Iowa City is one of many involved in filing an amicus curiae — or friend of the court — brief with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, according to a news release from Iowa City. The brief was drafted by the County of Santa Clara, Calif.

Typically, such a brief is sent by a group that is not directly involved in a suit but has interest in the matter. The intention is to influence the court’s final decision.

“It’s providing some additional information to the judge on the impact to local communities,” said Sue Dulek, Iowa City assistant city attorney.


The brief Iowa City joined asks the court to approve the city of Chicago’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would stall enforcement of the Department of Justice grant conditions until after a ruling.

“The amicus brief argues on behalf of local governments nationwide that these unconstitutional and unlawful conditions undermine the ability of local law enforcement agencies to carry out their own considered judgments about how best to keep their communities safe,” Iowa City’s news release states.

The news release also details that officials in some cities involved in sending the brief feel that limiting involvement in federal immigration enforcement “promotes public safety by empowering all community members to report crimes and serve as witnesses, avoiding creating a class of “silent victims” who feel local law enforcement doesn’t serve them.”

In January, the Iowa City Council passed a resolution that the Iowa City Police Department would not take action to detect undocumented immigrants living in the city.

“It is our belief that it is absolutely essential for the public safety of our community that all people, no matter their status, feel comfortable communicating and working with our police department,” Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said, according to the release. “We do not want to risk undermining the relationships our officers have built and the critical roles those relationships play in keeping Iowa City safe.”

Dulek said Throgmorton had seen a draft of the amicus brief before agreeing to sign. In past years, Iowa City received about $25,000 of Byrne JAG funding and used the money to purchase laser speed detection equipment and speeding message boards. The city also used grant money as part of Project Lifesaver, a national search and rescue program for individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Iowa City also shares the funding with Johnson County.

However, Dulek said the Iowa City police chief and city manager decided not to apply for the grant this year because they were unsure of the grant conditions.

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