Lawsuit over ‘sanctuary city’ policy
Chicago sues the Justice Department over its threat to withhold grant money.
CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration on Monday filed its much-touted lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department over its effort to withhold some grant funding from “sanctuary cities.”
Emanuel wants a federal judge to block the Trump administration from enforcing its new policy, which would affect not just Chicago, but other major U.S. cities like New York and San Francisco.
The Justice Department responded in an email that said last year more people were killed in Chicago than in New York and Los Angeles combined.
“It’s especially tragic that the mayor is less concerned with that staggering figure than he is spending time and taxpayer money protecting criminal aliens and putting Chicago’s law enforcement at greater risk,” the email said.
President Trump has long maintained that illegal immigration fuels crime, an assertion that critics say is not backed by statistics, which show that immigrants in the country without the required permission are less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens and legal residents.
Emanuel maintained at a rare Sunday news conference that Trump’s policy would damage efforts to tamp down crime, because people in the city without documentation would be afraid to cooperate with police.
Emanuel said Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions’ policy is unlawful and unconstitutional. He also called it “the camel’s nose under the tent,” contending it was an effort to set precedent that could result in the withholding of further grant money.
This year, Chicago was counting on receiving $3.2 million from the grants in question, a relatively miniscule portion of the city’s overall $9.8-billion budget.
Under the new Justice Department policy, Chicago would have to meet three conditions to receive funds that the city has used in the past to buy police vehicles and other equipment.
The conditions include sharing immigration status information with federal officials enforcing deportation laws, providing unlimited police station access to those officials, and giving the officials 48-hour notice of an arrested person’s release in cases of potential immigration violations.
“These new conditions — which would give federal officials the power to enter city facilities and interrogate arrestees at will and would force the city to detain individuals longer than justified by probable cause, solely to permit federal officials to investigate their immigration status — are unauthorized and unconstitutional,” the lawsuit said.
“These new conditions also fly in the face of longstanding city policy that promotes cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant communities, ensures access to essential city services for all residents, and makes all Chicagoans safer,” the suit adds. “Neither federal law nor the United States Constitution permits the attorney general to force Chicago to abandon this critical local policy.”
Emanuel won praise from representatives of Chicago’s immigrant community for going to court Monday, although some of those same activists contend that the mayor should do even more to prevent police from helping federal officials deport immigrants.
The city’s Welcoming City Ordinance, which sets its status as a sanctuary city, bars police from providing federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials access to people in local custody.
It also prohibits allowing ICE agents to use police facilities for interviews or investigations, and bars onduty officers from responding to ICE questions or talking to officials prior to a person’s release from custody.
But it does allow police to provide ICE officials access to immigrants who are wanted on a criminal warrant, face criminal charges, have serious criminal convictions or are listed in Chicago gang databases.
The American Civil Liberties Union maintains those exemptions, which could result in holding in custody someone not guilty of a recent crime, “expose the city to liability for violations of the 4th Amendment,” according to a letter the group sent to the mayor last month.
After the lawsuit was filed Monday, the city’s counsel, Ed Siskel, said Chicago would next file a motion for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Justice Department from imposing the new rules.
He said the city would ask the court to set a briefing schedule so a ruling could be issued before Sept. 5, the deadline for grant applications.
Siskel said the grants were crucial for the city’s public safety, even though they bring in such a small amount of money in the context of the full municipal budget.
“We are at a time when every bit counts, and every resource matters in this fight,” he said. “In addition, we are bringing this legal challenge because the rhetoric and the threats from this administration, embodied in these new restrictions placed on public safety grant funds, are breeding a culture and a climate of fear within the communities in our city.”
The mayor often expresses his opposition to Trump’s tough-on-immigration policies. It’s a position that plays well politically in largely Democratic Chicago, which has a significant Latino population that’s become increasingly active politically.
Emanuel has also backed successful efforts to strengthen the city’s Welcoming City Ordinance, create a legal fund to assist immigrants threatened with deportation and start developing a municipal ID program aimed mostly at helping immigrants without documentation make their way in the city.
“This is not about politics. This is about protecting the constitutional rights of the residents of the city of Chicago and standing up for our values as a welcoming city,” Siskel said.
The mayor has faced limited opposition, often from Alderman Nicholas Sposato, who on Monday called the lawsuit “a bad idea,” saying the city was “breaking the laws” and had more important priorities.
Byrne and Dardick write for the Chicago Tribune.
ED SISKEL, counsel for the city of Chicago, said the suit was not about politics. “This is about protecting the constitutional rights of the residents of the city of Chicago and standing up for our values as a welcoming city.”