Trump’s Asylum Stance Means Less Police Tech Funds for Portland, Maine

Nearly $70,000 in Department of Justice grant money will not be flowing into the city’s bank account next year because of new language and requirements regarding asylum seekers.

by Randy Billings, Portland Press Herald / December 3, 2018
Shutterstock

(TNS) — The Trump administration’s crackdown on communities that support asylum seekers will cost Portland police $68,000 next year, city officials said.

Interim Police Chief Vern Malloch, a 34-year veteran of the department, said, “Portland has been getting this grant for as long as I can remember.”

New language inserted into eligibility rules for the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant issued by the Department of Justice requires city officials to attest that their community does not induce or encourage non-citizens to come to or reside in their community and does not aid or abet such actions.

The existence of the Portland Community Support Fund, a unique public fund that helps meet the basic needs of asylum seekers who do not qualify for state General Assistance funds, was enough for the city to turn down the grant that it usually receives on an annual basis and uses to pay for police training and technology.

“Portland has been getting this grant for as long as I can remember,” said interim Police Chief Vern Malloch, who’s been with the department since 1984.

City officials are worried that the language could be inserted into other federal grants, potentially cutting off larger sources of federal funds.

Malloch said the decision to turn down the grant was made by Danielle West-Chuhta, the city’s top attorney. West-Chuhta did not respond to several requests for comment. When asked about the loss of the grant this week, neither West-Chuhta nor BethAnne Poliquin, an attorney for the police department, would provide the new language the Trump administration added to the 57-page document explaining the grant guidelines.

Malloch pointed to an appendix in the document that includes a federal prohibition against “bringing in and harboring certain aliens.”

CONCERN THAT ISSUES WOULD DEVELOP

There does not appear to be any language in the grant rules directly prohibiting the city from providing local support to asylum seekers, but Malloch cited new language prohibiting communities from harboring so-called “aliens” or encouraging them to come, or aiding or abetting efforts to harbor them.

“We can’t affirmatively say that that’s not happening,” Malloch said. “And there is a strong possibility that it is happening.”

The publicly funded and publicly administered Community Support Fund is considered to be unique in the United States. Malloch pointed out that Portland set up the fund to help immigrants who were deemed to be no longer eligible for state assistance because they had not yet formally filed an application for asylum. An immigrant who is undocumented or has overstayed a visa becomes eligible for aid under state law once an asylum application is filed.

City Manager Jon Jennings supports West-Chuhta’s decision to turn down the grant. He and Malloch are worried that the language would be added to other federal grants.

“There was concern by all of us, that with the Community Support Fund and the new language that’s been inserted, it’s harder to argue there may not be issues,” Jennings said.

City officials could not immediately provide information about how much the city receives annually in federal grants. But in fiscal 2017, the city appears to have spent $23.7 million in federal money, including nearly $1.7 million in funds from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, according to the auditor’s report posted on the city website.

The police department grant has paid for a variety of expenses. Last year, the city used $28,000 in justice assistance grant funds to purchase body-worn cameras and other associated technology for a pilot program.

OTHER MUNICIPALITIES AFFECTED

For the coming year, Malloch said the department planned to use the funds for officer training, mobile data terminals for police cruisers and an outside assessment center for officer promotions. “One of the things that is attractive about this grant is there are few restrictions on it,” Malloch said.

The Trump administration also added language prohibiting grants to so-called sanctuary cities, a term that generally describes communities that prohibit law enforcement officials from cooperating with immigration authorities. That has not affected Portland’s grant applications because the city does not meet the common definition of sanctuary city. Portland’s ordinance only says that city officials will not ask about a person’s immigration status, but it does allow local police officers to assist immigration authorities when asked.

Portland’s decision to turn down the grant also is affecting South Portland and Cape Elizabeth because they traditionally co-apply with Portland for justice assistance grants.

South Portland City Manager Scott Morelli said attorneys are looking into whether the city can receive over $12,000 in grant funds it planned to use to purchase four thermal cameras. It’s unclear how much Cape Elizabeth was expecting to receive.

©2018 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.