After Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated the federal government’s threat to block funding for so-called "sanctuary cities,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel doubled down on his own promise that Chicago will “continue to welcome” immigrants.
"I've always seen Chicago as a welcoming city,” Emanuel said in an interview from the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York on Monday.
“It welcomed my grandfather 100 years ago, we continue to welcome entrepreneurs, immigrants, and I would just say think of it this way: Half the new businesses in Chicago and the state of Illinois come from immigrants, nearly half,” he added. “Half the patents at the University of Illinois come from immigrants, and so we want to continue to welcome people, welcome their ideas, welcome their families to the city of Chicago, who want to build the American dream for their children and their grandchildren.”
Emanuel’s pledge came after Sessions told reporters that the Department of Justice would use compliance with immigration law as a condition for cities to receive federal grants – a reinforcement of the executive order on sanctuary cities that President Donald Trump signed in January.
The term "sanctuary city" refers to jurisdictions that do not comply with federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants who have been arrested on charges unrelated to their immigration status and turn them over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation.
In a surprise appearance at the White House press briefing Monday, Sessions said that these policies are “designed to frustrate the enforcement of our immigration laws.”
“They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets,” Sessions said. "We intend to use every lawful authority we have to make sure our state and local officials, who are so important to law enforcement, are in sync with the federal government.”
Chicago receives more than $1 billion in federal funding for initiatives including transportation, housing, public health and law enforcement – an area in which Emanuel has repeatedly asked for more assistance in combatting the city’s violence. On Monday, however, Emanuel appeared more concerned about maintaining Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city than he was about losing resources.
“Chicago was built on the back of immigrants and our future is hitched to the wagon of immigrants who come to the city,” he said. “I would say that the approach of penalizing cities, cities that are driving the economy, driving the energy of the United States – and they do it because we bring people of all different backgrounds to work together – that's just the wrong approach."
This is not the first time Emanuel has spoken out against the order, reaffirming that Chicago will remain a sanctuary city immediately after Trump signed the executive action in January, and joining a coalition of 34 cities and counties across the country on Thursday in asking a federal court to halt that order.
“Chicago has always been a welcoming city – its history is that of people, whether they’re from Poland or Pakistan, whether they’re from Ireland or India, whether they’re from Mexico or Moldova like where my grandfather came – we welcome immigrants who believe in America, believe in the American dream and want their children to do better than they do right now,” Emanuel added.
Chicago is not alone in its immigration policies, as more than 200 jurisdictions nationwide have declared sanctuary status, including New York City, Los Angeles and more.