By Logan Smith

DENVER (CBS4) — The Department of Justice and the State of Colorado resolved a dispute last week that was initiated during President Donald Trump’s administration when the federal government withheld $2.7 million in funds meant to support Colorado law enforcement agencies and criminal justice programs.

Colorado sued, claiming the withholding of the funds was an attempt to coerce the state into complying with the administration’s immigration policies. That, the state argued, was a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment.

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A year ago, a U.S. District Court judge agreed and ruled in favor of Colorado, calling the “immigration-related conditions imposed” on the funding “unlawful.”

Attorneys for the federal government appealed the decision.

Thursday, a judge accepted an agreement between the two.

“To end the litigation,” a press release from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office stated, “the federal government has agreed to drop its appeal of the judge’s findings that the immigration conditions violated federal law, and the state agreed to a modification in the judge’s ruling so that it no longer addresses whether the relevant conditions violate the U.S. Constitution.”

“We sued the Justice Department in the previous administration,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser in that press release, “because it broke the law when it withheld federal public safety grants for Colorado because our state would not comply with unlawful immigration-related conditions. The agreement we have reached with DOJ ends this lawsuit and it is a victory for the rule of law, for law enforcement agencies in Colorado that rely on these funds, and for public safety.”

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An immediate award of the funds, termed the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program, was ordered by the judge. Colorado has received the funds every year since 2012.

In its original complaint filed in March of 2019, the state claimed 63 conditions were attached to the 2018 JAG funds – six of the conditions being related to immigration enforcement. Four of those claimed conditions related to the access and flow of information regarding individuals’ citizenship or immigration status. Another gave federal law enforcement officials access to State and local correctional facilities for purposes of interrogating undocumented immigrants. The sixth required notification of federal authorities before the release of undocumented immigrants from state prisons or local jails.

The Tenth Amendment, as cited in Colorado’s complaint, prohibits the federal government from requiring states and localities “to govern according to Congress’ instructions” or “command[ing] the States’ officers … to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program.”

In a written rebuttal in July 2019, the federal government’s attorneys wrote, “Congress has granted DOJ sufficient and broad authority to impose these conditions.” They noted the U.S. had a right to encourage cooperation between law agencies in order to promote efficient immigration enforcement, and that previous JAG funds were dispensed with conditions never previously objected to by its recipients.

The DOJ has not released a statement regarding its agreement with the State of Colorado.


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Logan Smith