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City’s immigrant-friendly policy clouds $9.7M grant

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque Police Department has been awarded $9.7 million from the Department of Justice as part of Operation Relentless Pursuit, an initiative that was rolled out in seven of the most violent cities across the country.

But it’s unclear if APD will actually be able to get the money.

That’s because the Department of Justice has previously said that, to receive the funding, the city must allow a federal audit of the forms city employees fill out saying they’re legally allowed to work in the United States, and it must certify that it complies with 8 U.S.C. § 1373 – a provision that makes it illegal to prohibit employees from sharing information about an individual’s immigration status with federal law enforcement.

These conditions are stymied by the immigrant-friendly ordinance passed by the Albuquerque City Council and strengthened in April 2018.

Council President Pat Davis said if there is a condition that requires Albuquerque to change its immigration policy in order to receive the money, the city will not do that.

“The DOJ says we need the money, the DOJ says they have money to help us and we know we could use their help,” Davis said. “So we’re going to assume they’re going to be sincere in their offer. If they throw up a roadblock, we’ll have to look at how to deal with it, but reforming our immigration statutes is not one of those options.”

The issue was first raised by U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John Anderson in February when he pointed out that the city’s status as a “self-proclaimed sanctuary city” poses an obstacle to it being able to meet the conditions of the grant. The other cities selected to be part of Operation Relentless Pursuit are Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Memphis, Milwaukee, and the combined metropolitan area of Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas.

The DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services said the $9.7 million Albuquerque was awarded could be used to pay full entry-level salary and benefits for 40 police officers for three years.

The COPS office has awarded a total of $51 million to hire 214 law enforcement officers, and cities will be able to deploy existing veteran officers to work on federal task forces and hire new recruits to backfill those positions, according to a news release.

“ORP grantees, including the city of Albuquerque, were made aware and provided copies of all grant conditions at the time of application,” the COPS office wrote in a statement to the Journal. “The COPS Office and the Department of Justice look forward to a successful partnership with the city of Albuquerque to provide these much-needed law enforcement resources for this great American city.”

The city did not make anyone available for an interview, but did send statements from the mayor and police chief praising the funding and thanking the U.S. Attorney’s Office for being a crime-fighting partner.

“Though we disagree on some policies, we work together to fight violent crime,” Mayor Tim Keller wrote in a statement. “This funding is an important boost to our crime-fighting initiatives and will help us hire dozens more officers. We’re hopeful that this funding will continue not to be politicized, especially when the direct need is so clear.”

In response to questions about whether the city will certify that it will comply with the provisions in order to get the money, an APD spokesman said: the provision “8 U.S.C. § 1373 was mentioned in the application, but until we have the grant agreement, we won’t … know what will be included.”

Gilbert Gallegos, the APD spokesman, said nothing has changed since the issue was last brought to the forefront.

“We said we would still apply for the grant funding and we did,” Gallegos wrote in an email.

Previously, Deputy Chief Harold Medina said it “kind of feels like political extortion” that the DOJ is giving limitations on how the city can access the federal funding.

APD wasn’t the only local department to be awarded the grant.

In April, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office was awarded $1.4 million for Operation Relentless Pursuit.

Deputy Connor Otero, a BCSO spokesman, said the sheriff’s office has certified that it is able to comply with the conditions of the grant. He said BCSO has not received the funding yet as it is still being processed.

The county also has an immigrant-friendly resolution on its books and the county commission strengthened it in February 2019.

The resolution prohibits county agencies and employees from asking about or disclosing a person’s immigration status or using county resources to assist the enforcement of federal immigration law. The Metropolitan Detention Center, for example, is run by the county.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales also would not agree to an interview on the subject, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on any of the legal issues related to the grant.

However, he sent a statement saying that “as the independently elected Sheriff of the largest county and of the only minority-majority state in the country,” he is proud of his relationship and ties to the immigrant community and to his law enforcement partners. He said the Bernalillo County Commission has recognized that his office’s operating procedures are consistent with the resolution.

Gonzales said BCSO recognizes that the enforcement of immigration laws and arrests of foreign nationals are not the jobs of his deputies.

“Consequently, our deputies do not stop, question, detain, or arrest any person solely on the grounds that they may be undocumented,” Gonzales wrote. “BCSO will inquire about or seek proof of a person’s immigration status when it is pertinent to the investigation of an underlying non-immigration criminal violation.”

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