NEWARK, NJ - Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said on Monday that the federal government was using “extortion” when it withheld grants for local policing because the city won't comply with federal immigration enforcement policies.

The mayor’s sentiments were echoed by Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura and three congressmen during a city hall press conference. The officials met in the wake of the state attorney general joining a civil suit against the federal justice department, claiming its conditions to receive the grant money are unconstitutional.

“For the federal government to threaten to take money from us because our policy in the City of Newark, I think is barbaric, to say the least,” Baraka said. “Ultimately, we need as much money as we can to be able to police our streets the way it needs to be policed. You're putting people at risk here in the City of Newark when you do that."

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About $328,000 last year was set aside for the city as part of the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. Baraka said that money would go towards local initiatives like police overtime pay, community policing and officers walking the beat.

Baraka signed an executive order last year that spelled out the city's sanctuary city status, which included not using local funds to help with immigration enforcement unless it was required by a court.

The executive order was signed despite the looming threat of losing aid from the White House. President Donald Trump signed his own executive order when he first took office that barred sanctuary status locations from receiving federal grants.

The state attorney general’s office said the federal Department of Justice will deny the policing grant to jurisdictions that don't adhere to certain guidelines, including providing federal officials with access to state and local correctional facilities or giving notice of an immigrant's scheduled release date from jail.

Fontoura, the county sheriff, today said it was critical to get “our fair share” of funding from the federal government. He was concerned the government in the future could deny different grants for local policing, including the COPS Hiring Program.

“If they get away with this, then that will be next, is our fear,” he said. “There's many other grants, but particularly that one, which is very crucial and important for us to work in Essex County.”

Local officials were also joined by U.S. Reps Donald Payne, Jr., Frank Pallone, Jr. and Bill Pascrell, Jr.

“It's not much money, but every dollar counts when you're looking to enhance the quality of life for all people that would come to this city and try to make a life for themselves,” Payne said.

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