Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel chose to skip a planned meeting at the White House Wednesday after President Donald Trump’s administration increased pressure on so-called sanctuary cities.
In Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, Emanuel was not the only mayor refusing to attend the meeting on infrastructure after the U.S. Department of Justice announced plans to subpoena records from local governments to prove they are sharing the immigration status of people taken into custody.
The DOJ sent letters to 23 cities, states and counties Tuesday requesting documents showing any sort of guidance that law enforcement agencies have given employees regarding cooperation with federal immigration officials. Among those receiving letters were both Cook County and Chicago.
"The city of Chicago, which was the only city back in the Civil War that did not participate in the Fugitive Slave Act, it was the first welcoming city in the United States. And the city of Chicago will not turn its back on people who believe for their children America still is a place of promise," Emanuel said at the meeting of the Conference of Mayors.
And the idea that the President of the United States and the Justice Department would arrest any one of us for believing in our ideals and carrying out the law of our city is wrong, fundamentally wrong," he continued, adding, "As a former chief of staff, those meetings with the president are about bringing together and doing exactly what my colleague just said – how to find solutions to problems, not to put 23 people on notice."
The term "sanctuary city" refers to cities that do not comply with the federal government's requests to detain undocumented immigrants who have been arrested on charges unrelated to their immigration status and turn them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation.
The Trump administration’s crackdown on these jurisdictions – mandated through an executive order signed more than a year ago – has sparked multiple lawsuits, including one filed by the City of Chicago, as well as an escalating war of words between the president and Emanuel.
"The Trump Justice Department can try to intimidate us with legal threats, but we will never abandon our values as a welcoming city or the rights of Chicago residents,” Emanuel said in a statement Tuesday.
“The Trump Administration's actions undermine public safety by jeopardizing our philosophy of community policing, as they attempt to drive a wedge between immigrant communities and the police who serve them,” his statement continued. “Like we've done in our lawsuit against the Trump Justice Department for attempting to use a federal public safety grant to blackmail cities like Chicago, we will continue to stand up for Chicago's residents and our principles."
Recently sworn in, new U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch was reserved in his comments on the administration’s latest actions.
“That’s coming from the Justice Department, and the question is whether or not the entities that receive those letters, whether they will respond to them and I assume they will,” Lausch said Wednesday.
“We have not yet officially received the DOJ letter but have been informed of its contents,” Cook County Board President spokesman Frank Shuftan said in a statement.
“Our position remains unchanged: we comply with all applicable federal laws. We have in the past responded to DOJ's requests for opinions and supporting documents to substantiate our position and will do so again as necessary,” Shuftan continued. “That said, we remain committed to ensuring that all Cook County residents have the same access to justice, regardless of their socio-economic status, education level, skin color, ZIP code and immigration status.”
Of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Lausch said they have met one-on-one and that Sessions “was very interested in having experienced U.S. attorneys working across the country to carry out the mission of the Justice Department and I’m very happy and proud to be a part of that mission.”
The DOJ said $380 million in grant money will be blocked to sanctuary cities, but the courts have so far disagreed as cities have fought back.
At issue for Chicago in particular is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG), a program Emanuel said Chicago has used in the past for various public safety initiatives, including the purchase of SWAT equipment, police vehicles, radios and tasers. Last year, the City received $2.3 million in Byrne JAG funding, according to the mayor.
The city's lawsuit will argue that the Justice Department cannot make grants contingent on these requirements because they would "effectively federalize local detention facilities" and violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in requiring detainees to be held beyond the timeframe in which they would otherwise be eligible for release.
In April, a judge blocked Trump’s executive order cutting off federal grants to sanctuary cities, ruling that the president could not set new conditions on spending approved by Congress, though the administration continues to move forward with efforts to crack down on those jurisdictions.