Chicago filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the U.S. Department of Justice over efforts to block funding to sanctuary cities.
The lawsuit, filed just after 10 a.m., specifically names Attorney General Jeff Sessions and aims to keep him "from imposing sweeping new conditions on an established federal grant program."
That program "has for years provided crucial support for law enforcement in Chicago and other cities," the suit states, and new conditions would directly interfere with Chicago's ability to remain a sanctuary city, meaning one that opts not to cooperate with certain parts of federal immigration enforcement.
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"Neither federal law nor the United States Constitution permits the Attorney General to force Chicago to abandon this critical local policy," the complaint claims.
Ed Siskel, head of the city’s law department, said the suit is "not about politics" but about "protecting the constituional rights of the residents of the city of Chicago."
"We are bringing this legal challenge because the rhetoric and the threats from this administration embodied in these new conditions imposed on unrelated public safety grant funds are breeding a culture and a climate of fear within the communities in our city and it is important that we make very clear to them and all the residents in the city of Chicago that we are going to fight and stand up for our values as a welcoming city," Siskel said outside the courthouse Monday.
Chicago's mayor announced the lawsuit during a news conference at City Hall Sunday alongside Siskel, as well as Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who highlighted the importance of federal resources in combatting the city's violence.
“Chicago is a welcoming City and always will be, and we will not be blackmailed by President Trump's Justice Department," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a released statement. "Forcing us to choose between our values and our Police Department’s philosophy of community policing is a false choice, and it is a choice that would ultimately undermine our public safety agenda."
Sessions, however, said the city's stance makes "all of us less safe."
"By protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with so-called 'sanctuary' policies make all of us less safe," Sessions said in a statement. "We saw that just last week, when an illegal alien who had been deported 20 times and was wanted by immigration authorities allegedly sexually assaulted an elderly woman in Portland, a city that refuses to cooperate with immigration enforcement.
"By forcing police to go into more dangerous situations to re-arrest the same criminals, these policies endanger law enforcement officers more than anyone," the statement continued. "The Department of Justice is committed to supporting our law enforcement at every level, and that's why we're asking 'sanctuary' jurisdictions to stop making their jobs harder."
The Justice Department also noted that in 2016, more Chicagoans were murdered than in New York City and Los Angeles combined.
"So 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 Department wrote.
The Justice Department released its application for the 2017 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) on Thursday, 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.
However, this year’s application includes provisions requiring local governments to allow the U.S. Department of Homeland Security access to any detention facility to meet with and inquire about the citizenship of anyone believed to be undocumented, and to give federal authorities 48 hours advance notice before releasing someone who is wanted on immigration violations, as conditions to receive funding – both changes in the program’s requirements from years past.
The city's lawsuit argued 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.
The DOJ's shift in requirements is part of President Donald Trump’s administration’s efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities, the term used for 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 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation.
Trump signed an executive order in January to block federal grants to sanctuary cities, an action that a judge blocked in April, ruling that the president could not set new conditions on spending approved by Congress - an argument included in the City of Chicago's lawsuit.
However, Sessions has moved to intensify the crackdown on a number of occasions, most recently sending letters to four cities informing them they would be ineligible to receive resources under a new crime-fighting program unless their police departments show proof of compliance with the DOJ’s new rules.
In March, Sessions said sanctuary cities' policies are "designed to frustrate the enforcement of our immigration laws" – a claim that Emanuel has refuted, repeatedly defending Chicago’s "Welcoming City" ordinance.
"Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance promotes public safety by ensuring that no city resident, regardless of their status, is afraid to cooperate with law enforcement, report criminal activity to the police, serve as a witness in court, or seek help as a victim of crime," a spokesman for Emanuel said in a statement.
"I've always seen Chicago as a welcoming city," Emanuel said in response to Sessions' comments in March.
"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."
"Chicago was built on the back of immigrants and our future is hitched to the wagon of immigrants who come to the city," Emanuel continued. "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."
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, with some expected to follow Chicago in filing suit.
The city hopes to have a decision on the suit before the Sept. 5 deadline and officials said they do not anticipate the litigation "will cost the city any additional resources."
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