City Keeps Grant For Juvenile Programs, Ignores Immigration Strings From Justice Dept.

Apr 23, 2019

A sign at a rally against the Trump administration's immigration policies in Kalamazoo's Bronson Park in July 2018.
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

The fight over immigration goes so deep in the United States, you’ll even find it in the Kalamazoo city budget. Like many local governments, Kalamazoo gets federal dollars for some of its programs, such as the Bridging initiative to reduce juvenile crime. The Trump administration has tried to withhold some grants from cities - including Kalamazoo - that refuse to help enforce Trump’s immigration policy. But those cities are pushing back, with some success.


The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety is proud of the Bridging program. That’s the initiative that KDPS credits with reducing the city’s juvenile crime rate. Assistant chief David Boysen says the city recognized that just a few young people were involved in most of the crimes. KDPS started reaching out to them, getting them into programs at the local Boys and Girls Club and other community organizations.

“They really respond well to that relationship piece where they know that the people at those program are doing it because they care. They’re not just a number in a program, they’re really trying to help these kids and connect with them.”

Part of the program is work experience. The Youth Opportunities Unlimited program or YOU gives young people paying jobs over the summer. Boysen says they benefit from having an income and learning job skills.

“So we wanted to give them that work experience to build those life skills on how to obtain a job, how to show up on time every day. Just the basic skills a lot of us take for granted and a lot of these youths just didn’t have.”

This is the part of the Bridging program that’s partly funded by the federal government through a grant from the Justice Department. Known as the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, they’re given to local governments around the country. But under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has added terms to those grants requiring cities to play a role in the executive branch’s hardline immigration policy.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE agents want to find and detain undocumented immigrants. They want local law enforcement to help them, by giving federal agents access to detention facilities. They also want city police to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement a heads-up if an undocumented person in police custody is about to be released.

The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment for this story. But in a news release in 2017 the DOJ said the new conditions would help reduce gang violence and crime. The department says compliance will make the country safer.

But the City of Kalamazoo has taken a much different stance on immigration.

“All of Kalamazoo’s residents deserve to live in a safe environment, free of hate and discrimination.”

That’s Kalamazoo city commissioner Don Cooney.

In March 2016, as rhetoric on immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, heated up in the presidential campaign, Kalamazoo city commissioners formally declared that Kalamazoo is a city that welcomes immigrants. And it’s not just elected officials. Former Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley said cooperating with ICE could make it harder to keep the community safe. He told commissioners that the city’s undocumented residents need to be able to trust the police.

“We want them to feel comfortable being able to call us for services if they need us because if they don’t they’re more vulnerable. They’re gonna live in the shadows, they could be further victimized, they couldn’t seek the services that are available to them and I don’t think anybody wants that.

Hadley said people who fear deportation are less likely to report a crime, or share information that could solve it. So where does that put the City of Kalamazoo in relation to the Byrne grants to local law enforcement? The city has had to give up some of that funding. Last fall Kalamazoo walked away from a 2018 grant that would have paid for lab equipment. Kalamazoo City Attorney Clyde Robinson said that the city commission would not be complying with the new conditions in that grant.

“The action that was being considered in November of last year was for fiscal year 2018 grant and the city commission felt that the conditions that were being requested of the city to comply with were inconsistent with the position that the city commission has taken in regard to the immigrant population in our community.”

But another grant, the one that funds the Bridging program for juveniles, came before the City Commission last January. Like the grant the city turned down, this grant has strings attached. Cities that accept it are supposed to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Mattie Jordan-Woods is the director of the Northside Association for Community Development. It would get funding from the grant. But in January, Jordan-Woods told city commissioners that the money wasn’t worth it if the city would have to comply with ICE.

“But I want to make it perfectly clear that we have to make sure that the immigrants that live in our community is safe. And if we can’t do that we shouldn’t accept any money from any one.”

But it turned out there was good news for Jordan-Woods and the Bridging program. City Attorney Robinson found that with this grant, the city could take the money while essentially ignoring the part about immigration.

“That grant was not for capital type of improvements like lab equipment but was actually programmatic. And it was going to be funding a program reaching out to the youth that are most at risk.”

The other reason has to do with the courts. Robinson says several cities across the country are suing the Justice Department over the immigration rules in the recent Byrne grants.

“And so there was a few other challenges, a litany of reasons why those municipalities, those cities felt that the conditions attempting to be imposed by the justice department shouldn’t be a part of the grant.”

Robinson says the cities that are suing the Justice Department have a strong case.

“What the federal government is attempting to do is co-opt local law enforcement for federal purposes in violation of the U.S. constitution.”

In short, the Justice Department has managed to put some grant money out of reach of local governments that won’t cooperate with ICE. But it’s also seen cities like Kalamazoo keep other grants, apparently with the courts on their side. However, the cities’ case against the DOJ is still in progress. In Kalamazoo, youth employment through the Bridging program is funded through the end of the summer.