Amherst officials prep for loss of police grant over ‘sanctuary’ status

  • Congressman Jim McGovern and others raise their hands in response to a question of how many had protested Trump and his orders in some way at the community meeting to declare Amherst a sanctuary city. Town officials are preparing for the potential loss of a federal grant that funds a neighborhood liason officer position because of its declaration as a sanctuary city. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Thursday, December 28, 2017

AMHERST — Because it has declared itself a safe community for undocumented immigrants, Amherst could be at risk of losing a grant that has paid the salary of the police department’s neighborhood liaison officer.

Town officials and the police department have received no notification about the status of the Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, but Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he fears Amherst is facing a similar situation to Lawrence, which recently was informed by the U.S. attorney general’s office that its federal grants would be taken away.

“The money hasn’t been released by the federal government and we don’t know if it will be,” Bockelman said.

Last month, Lawrence was the only Massachusetts city to receive one of 29 letters sent by Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson warning of consequences for declaring itself a sanctuary city for those who have come to the United States illegally. That letter was also sent to cities, including Berkeley and Los Angeles, and states, such as Vermont.

Police Chief Scott Livingstone said in an email that the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, which disseminates the federal grant money, doesn’t have any new information about the grant.

Bockelman has suggested that Livingstone take steps to mitigate the possible loss of money, managing the department’s budget as if the money will no longer be available.

Livingstone said he already keeps a close eye on his department’s spending.

Funding for the neighborhood liaison position began in fall 2015 with a one-year, $92,164 Byrne grant, paying for salary and benefits, equipment and other expenses, such as attending professional development conferences. The town received the grant again in 2016, though Amherst has never been assured of receiving it from year to year.

The Amherst sanctuary bylaw limits local police cooperation with immigration officials. It states that Amherst law enforcement officials shall not detain individuals solely on the basis of a civil immigration detainer request or ICE administrative warrant.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced in late July that more than 200 sanctuary cities would be disqualified from receiving Byrne grants if they were considered out of compliance with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, citing the need to meet terms of Title 8, Section 1373:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of federal, state, or local law, a federal, state, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

In a statement issued in October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said:

“Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law.”

Amherst overwhelmingly adopted a sanctuary bylaw at Town Meeting in May, which was later approved by state Attorney General Maura Healey. The bylaw was written so that it complies with Section 1373, which focuses on the sharing of information related to a person’s citizenship and immigration status.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.