BOSTON (AP) — A panel of three appeals court judges upheld a previous ruling that the U.S. Department of Justice cannot enforce two Rhode Island cities to comply with a grant that they said in a lawsuit would turn local police into federal immigration agents.

The decision issued Tuesday by judges with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston sided with the cities of Providence and Central Falls, the Providence Journal reported.

The federal government, among other things, wanted cities receiving public safety grants to notify federal agents when immigrants in the country illegally are about to be released.

The DOJ did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

The two cities filed the lawsuit in August 2018 after the federal government required recipients of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant to cooperate with authorities in the enforcement of federal immigration law.

Both cities are self-described "sanctuary cities"and do not direct their police forces to carry out federal immigration policy.

This week's decision upheld a 2019 ruling by Judge John J. McConnell Jr. in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island.

McConnell Jr. said in his ruling that "Congress has not granted the power to impose the conditions the DOJ imposed."

"Both the City of Providence and the City of Central Falls are pleased that the First Circuit found DOJ's attempts to require our police departments to be agents of a federal immigration system to be unlawful and not authorized by Congress," Patricia Socarras, spokeswoman for Mayor Jorge Elorza's office, wrote in an email.

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