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Question stirs controversy on grant deal
Immigration query raises red flag for some


HUNTINGTON — What is normally a routine request for federal grant money has turned into a point of controversy for Huntington City Council.

For at least the past decade, the city has applied and received money for the Huntington Police Department through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program. The program is used to pay for officers performing drug interdiction patrols and for community education programs.

However, new language added to the grant application this year has some people questioning whether accepting it will open the city up to illegal immigration raids conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency.

City officials said the grant's wording is merely a promise to comply with all federal laws, and the grant itself has nothing to do with immigration or ICE.

Still, a group of people are asking the city not to follow through with the grant application and to take measures to prevent local officers from working with ICE agents.

City Council members were divided.

The issue first surfaced during an Aug. 26 City Council meeting, which had two items on the agenda related to the JAG program. The first is an ordinance in support of an intergovernmental agreement with the Cabell County Sheriff's Office to share funding through the grant. The grant is worth $44,000 and will be split between city and county police. The ordinance was moved on for a second reading.

The second item was a resolution authorizing Mayor Steve Williams to apply for the grant and accept the grant's conditions. Before council members could vote on approving the resolution, about a half-dozen members of the public

spoke out and urged them to reject it.

One was Mackenzie Lloyd, of Huntington, who pointed out wording added to the grant application April 8.

The grant application contains an appendix in reference to "Communication between government agencies and the Immigration and Naturalization Service."

According to the appendix, any government agency applying for the grant 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."

It also outlines federal laws and procedures pertaining to the arrest, detention and release of people suspected of illegal immigration.

"By signing this grant, we actually do agree to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency for money," Lloyd said.

The appendix was added by the Trump administration in regard to "sanctuary cities," or cities where laws and policies have been implemented to limit interactions with the federal government's efforts to enforce immigration law.

The administration had refused giving JAG program money, or any federal money, to cities that have enacted such laws. Huntington has no sanctuary laws, and neither does any city in West Virginia, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

Joseph Greene, of Huntington, agreed with Lloyd and said targeting undocumented people will create a city of victims who are afraid to come forward in the event of a crime.

"If people are afraid to come forward, regardless of their immigration status, we are going to have a city full of victims," Greene said. "People are going to be scared that the next thing they are asked about after their house gets robbed or they are assaulted, what have you, is that they are going to be asked about their status, especially under the current presidency."

However, City Attorney Scott Damron said the statute relating to communication between local governments and ICE has been on the books since about 1996. Agreeing to the grant's terms is an agreement that the city will comply with all federal laws, he said.

"Basically what the city is doing, and is agreeing to do, is to comply with federal law. The grant has nothing to do with immigration and Chief (Hank) Dial stated as much," Damron said. "There is nothing that needs to be changed as far as the city's compliance with federal law. We intend to comply with federal law and we're not adopting a new policy of any kind."

City Council members appeared at odds.

Council member Alex Vence said he is the son of immigrants and refugees. He is the first in his family born in America after they fled Cuba during the Cuban revolution.

"Frankly, the way I read it, I don't see any language that says we are, by accepting this money, allowing ICE carte blanche to just come in and start rounding folks up," Vence said.

Council member Joyce Clark said the grant is important to police work and pays for necessary overtime to combat the city's and county's opioid epidemic.

"I know that our police department would be totally crippled," Clark said. "I know $40,000 doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it could provide so much overtime for our officers."

Council members Charles McComas, Tom McGuffin, Carol Polan and Rebecca Howe voted against the resolution. Council members Tonia Page, Mike Shockley, Jennifer Wheeler, Mark Bates, Clark and Vence voted in favor of it, leading to its adoption. Council District 9 was vacant at the time stemming from the resignation of former council member Tina Brooks.

The ordinance allowing city and county police to work together under the grant will require a second reading before council members may vote on it, which could be the Sept. 9 meeting at the earliest.

The JAG program comes from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005. The program is named for New York City police officer Edward Byrne, who was killed in the line of duty in 1988 while protecting an immigrant witness who agreed to testify against drug dealers. The JAG program is administered by the Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Assistance, and provides federal criminal justice funding to state, local and tribal jurisdictions.

According to a 2016 grant study by the National Criminal Justice Association, 60% of the grant is administered through the Bureau of Justice Assistance in Charleston, which in turn awards the funding to local governments and nonprofit service providers. About 40% comes directly from the U.S. Department of Justice to local communities based on population and crime data.

Through the grant, 13 multi-jurisdiction task forces were formed to battle drugs and violent crime in West Virginia. It was also used to start a school resource prevention officer program in several counties, which is intended for officers to help improve students' attitudes and knowledge of criminal justice and law enforcement, helps prevent kids from committing crimes and mentors youth, according to the study.

In August, a federal judge in Oregon ruled the Trump administration isn't allowed to withhold grant funding from that state in an effort to make it comply with federal immigration enforcement officials.

In 2018, Oregon and the city of Portland sued the U.S. government after JAG funding was withheld because of sanctuary city laws passed in the state.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.


HUNTINGTON—In American life, there are a handful of emotional cocktails bottled up and dormant inside an individual throughout the year, uncorked only at an appointed time.

The feelings elicited by Christmas, New Year's Eve, the Fourth of July or a birthday (to name a few) would fall into this category of sensations felt only one time a year, but virtually unchanged from year to year.

For those who hold it dear, there's nothing like the feeling of the first day of football season.

It could be hot air paired with a cool breeze and a cold beer, the

smell and sound of meat hitting a smoking-hot grill, or simply finding that extra comfy spot on the couch for a marathon day in front of the television.

It's different for everyone, yet it's a communal experience that transcends so much in an age of divisiveness. For a few hours at least, everyone wearing your colors is on your team.

And just like it always is, it was all kelly green in Huntington on Saturday as the Thundering Herd opened its 2019 campaign against the Virginia Military Institute Keydets at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Whether coming from across the street or across the country, Herd fans made that beloved pilgrimage back, just like they always have.

It's what David Hetzer called returning to "my happy place," a Huntington native and 1986 graduate now living in Lake Wylie, South Carolina. Despite now living 5 1/2 hours away, Hetzer makes the drive back for every home game, tailgating hours before along 3rd Avenue across from the stadium.

"I bleed green; I don't know any other way to explain why we do it," Hetzer laughed. "I have so many great friends and great memories of Huntington, and I get drawn back to my happy place, which I always say is Huntington.

"Anytime I can get back to my happy place, I will."

It's a similar situation for Nehemiah North, a Charleston native and 2001 graduate now living with his wife and children in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Norths make the trip north for a couple of home games a year, and it's refreshing to be surrounded by like-minded Marshall fans again.

"You come up and show them where you lived and where you went to school. Marshall was some of the best times of my life, so I want them to experience the same things we did. Back when we used to win every game," he laughed as he tossed football with his son in the main lot — Marshall finished 11-2 and was ranked No. 21 in the nation in 2001.

Football games are both a nostalgic trip to college days passed mixed with the new, as Chris Conley put it. The sense of connection is there as an alum, but those people are now bringing their spouses and children, as well.

Conley's first game came as a student in 1991, at the first game ever at the then-newly built Joan C. Edwards Stadium, when the Herd defeated New Hampshire 24-23.

"It's the same feeling as it was then, but it only improves," Conley said outside his group's tent in the main lot.

"They've really done a good job making it better for the fans. It's just great for family and friends, reconnecting and all that. It's just a great experience."

A former regular foe in Marshall's Southern Conference days, the Herd last played VMI in football in 1996, defeating the Keydets 45-20 in Lexington, Virginia. VMI last played in Huntington in 1995, losing to the Herd 56-21.

Going into 2019, Marshall leads the series with VMI 14-5. The Keydets last defeated the Herd in 1981, 20-16, in Huntington.

War on tobacco slows to a crawl
Anti-smoking advocates critique pace of FDA action

WASHINGTON — It seemed like a new era in the half-century battle against the deadly toll of tobacco: U.S. health officials for the first time would begin regulating cigarettes, chew and other products responsible for a half-million American deaths annually.

"The decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of smoking has finally emerged victorious/' then-President Barack Obama said in a speech before signing the 2009 measure into law.

But a decade later, health advocates say the Food and Drug Administration has yet to put in place the most sweeping changes envisioned by Congress. Efforts to bolster cigarette warnings and ban harmful ingredients have been stymied by tobacco companies. And the pace of progress is so slow that the FDA now faces lawsuits from its traditional allies: anti-smoking groups who are suing the agency to take action.

"If you're not moving forward on your own with a clear goal in mind then, at some point, this is what happens," said Eric Lind-blom, a lawyer at Georgetown University's O'Neill Institute who previously worked at the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.

Ten years after the center's launch, Lindblom and others say they underestimated the obstacles that would crowd FDA's path, including industry lawsuits, lobbying and the grinding pace of government bureaucracy.

Earlier this month the agency proposed new graphic warning labels for cigarette packets, a court-ordered move triggered by a lawsuit from the American Lung Association and other health groups who alleged the agency was dragging its feet on the effort. A 2011 attempt at requiring the labels was defeated in court by tobacco companies.

FDA tobacco director Mitch Zeller said the agency's critics have overlooked the enormous accomplishment of setting up the new center in the first place.

"There was and there still is no other regulatory agency in the world with these authorities and responsibilities," Zeller said in an interview.

He noted that the FDA has invested more than $1.6 billion in tobacco research to guide its future decisions, such as how to regulate electronic cigarettes. He also pointed to the agency's S870 million in spending on anti-smoking advertising campaigns. Last week, researchers estimated that one of those campaigns, dubbed "the real cost," prevented between 380,000 and 587,000 young people from starting on cigarettes.

In a statement, agency acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless also highlighted the "extraordinary investments the FDA has made in science, education and enforcement," asserting that they "are already paying public health dividends and are sure to yield even more in the years to come."

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act did immediately ban misleading terms like "light" and "mild" from cigarettes and prohibited all flavors, except for menthol. But the more transformative powers to remake the tobacco industry were to be written by the agency itself as federal regulations. They include the ability to:

• Reduce nicotine to make cigarettes less addictive

• Remove cancer-causing ingredients to make tobacco products less harmful

• Restrict packaging and advertising to make products less appealing

Micah Berman, a public health lawyer at Ohio State University, argues that FDA regulation has not yet had a measurable impact on the U.S. smoking rate.

Since 2009, the U.S. smoking rate has fallen by about a third — from 21% to 14% of adults.| But Berman says this decline continues a decades-long trend attributable to longstanding measures, such as smoking bans, cigarette taxes and anti-smoking campaigns.

"FDA was given the authority to make tobacco products less toxic, less addictive and less attractive and it has not finalized one product standard to do any of those things," said Berman, who previously served as a senior FDA adviser.

In a recent paper, "The Faltering Promise of FDA Tobacco Regulation," Berman says FDA officials are not to blame for the lack of progress, but rather the "immense" structural challenges of getting new regulations through the Washington political machine.

He argues that the 2009 tobacco law merely shifted the longstanding battle between anti-smoking groups and Big Tobacco to federal institutions like the White House and Congress, which hold sway over the FDA.

"All of these are areas where the tobacco industry can spend a lot of time and money lobbying and has a lot of expertise and incentives to spend as much as it can," Berman said.

Lindblom, who worked at FDA from 2014 to 2016, noted that all proposed FDA regulations must be reviewed by the White House's Office of Management and Budget, which assesses their economic impact. Lindblom says that during his years at the agency, White House staff repeatedly called the FDA with concerns that echoed those of industry.

"It was clear that these were questions right out of industry's playbook," Lindblom said.

Perhaps the biggest regulations finalized under Obama were rules that expanded FDA's oversight to newer tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, which the agency is still trying to implement. Other agency initiatives, including scrutinizing the harms of menthol cigarettes — used disproportionately by young people and minorities — were derailed by industry challenges.

Meanwhile, tobacco companies have their own grievances. The 2009 law offered industry the unprecedented opportunity to win FDA clearance for "reduced risk" tobacco products, which would be federally endorsed as posing lower risks to tobacco users. The FDA has yet to grant any such request.

"They are still establishing the rules of the road, but there has been some progress," said Joe Murillo, a vice president with Marlboro-maker Altria. The company is awaiting an FDA decision on whether it can market a heated tobacco product called iQOS — made by Philip Morris International — as less harmful than combustible cigarettes.

Under the Trump administration, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb kicked off his tenure with the goal of making cigarettes less addictive by drastically cutting their nicotine content. He also rebooted the agency's effort to ban menthol flavoring in cigarettes.

But he spent most of his time at the agency responding to an unexpected explosion in e-cigarette use by teens.

Gottlieb left the FDA in April shortly after proposing new restrictions on retail sales of e-cigarettes. That regulation has not been finalized and is expected to face legal challenges. And the FDA has yet to introduce a concrete plan for cutting nicotine in cigarettes, but says it is on track to publish one later this year.

Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says the FDA is at a "crossroads" that will largely determine whether tobacco regulation is ultimately successful. Among other decisions, he points to an upcoming deadline to begin reviewing the health effects of e-cigarettes.

"FDA has sitting before it now decisions of such importance that they will impact tobacco control and public health for decades to come," Myers said.

But he isn't waiting to see what FDA does. Earlier this summer Myers' group and six others successfully sued the agency to move up its deadline for reviewing e-cigarettes to May 2020.