Chicago sues Trump's Justice Department over sanctuary city policy

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday won praise from some representatives of Chicago's immigrant community for going to court to block President Donald Trump's Department of Justice from withholding some police grant funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

Some of those same activists, though, contend Emanuel should do even more to prevent police from helping federal officials deport Chicago immigrants who entered the country without the required legal documentation. The mayor also caught more flak from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who in stepping up his rhetoric said "no amount of federal taxpayer dollars will help a city that refuses to help its own residents."

The wide array of views coming from Emanuel's City Hall, the White House and immigrant protection groups is a sign of the complex debate the mayor has entered by filing the lawsuit. It's all further complicated by differing views on whether sanctuary city status fosters or hinders crime — as reflected in Sessions' harsh words and the city's contention that the Trump "administration's rhetoric is divorced from reality."

Emanuel's lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, asks a judge to block the Trump administration from enforcing three new conditions it included last week in applications for Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant money. The city uses the grant to help buy police cars, purchase other equipment and fund an anti-violence program. Those applications are due Sept. 5, and the city wants a court order before the deadline, said Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel, the city's top attorney.

The new conditions outlined by Sessions' Justice Department: sharing immigration status information with federal officials enforcing deportation laws, providing unlimited police station access to those officials and giving them 48-hours notice of an arrested person's release in cases of potential immigration violations.

City officials contend in the lawsuit that they do share immigration status information when they have it, but that's rare because the city doesn't keep it in the normal course of business.

Providing unfettered station access would interfere with police department practices, delay release of people being held and violate the 10th Amendment by "commandeering" local government functions, the lawsuit states. And holding people for 48 hours without a warrant or probable cause that they have committed a crime would violate 4th Amendment search and seizure limitations, it adds.

The suit also contends that the Justice Department has no authority to set conditions on the Byrne grant funding and is attempting to usurp the Congressional power of the purse. In short, the suit deems the conditions "unlawful and unconstitutional."

This year, the city 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.

"We are at a time when every bit counts and every resource matters in this fight," Siskel 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."

Plus, the fate of Chicago's grant application also would affect other local Illinois governments that include their funding requests in Chicago's application, according to the lawsuit. They are Cook County, Bellwood, Calumet City, Chicago Heights, Cicero, Dolton, Evanston, Harvey, Maywood, Riverdale and Skokie.

And the outcome of the suit could have ramifications for far-flung local and state governments with sanctuary laws on the books. They include New York, Philadelphia, Miami and the state of California.

So it was no surprise that groups like Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights backed the mayor's move. "We are all for defending Chicago's policy with respect to immigration," said Fred Tsao, the group's senior policy counsel. He also said "the law is on the side of the city."

Yet Tsao's group is part of a broader coalition that for months has been pushing Emanuel to remove four exemptions from the city's Welcoming City Ordinance, which sets its status as a sanctuary city.

That ordinance 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 on-duty officers from responding to ICE questions or talking to ICE officials prior to a person's release from custody.

But it does allow police to provide ICE officials access to immigrants suspected of entering the country illegally who are wanted on a criminal warrant, face criminal charges, have serious criminal convictions or are listed on 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 ACLU sent to the mayor and aldermen last month.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, has been pushing to get Chicago to join other cities that have eliminated similar exemptions, but the Emanuel administration so far has rebuffed his efforts, as recently as Friday by canceling a meeting on the issue.

"It's quite funny and hypocritical that at the same time as (Emanuel is) putting forward this lawsuit saying that we want to defend the Constitution, here the ACLU has said that our own sanctuary city policy is in violation of the supreme law of the land," said Ramirez-Rosa, who also stressed that he supports the lawsuit.

Ramirez-Rosa's view runs counter to the image Emanuel has tried to portray on the issue in mostly Democratic Chicago, which has a significant Latino population that's become increasingly politically active.

Emanuel often expresses his opposition to Trump's immigration views and in the past year backed other successful efforts to strengthen the 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.

He's faced only limited opposition, often from Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 38th, who on Monday called the lawsuit "a bad idea," saying the city was "breaking the laws" and had more important priorities.

While immigrant rights activists backed the mayor's lawsuit, Sessions on Monday reiterated the Trump administration's contention that sanctuary city status fuels crime.

Chicago officials "have demonstrated an open hostility to enforcing laws designed to protect law enforcement — federal, state, and local — and reduce crime, and instead have adopted an official policy of protecting criminal aliens who prey on their own residents," Sessions said in a prepared statement.

"This is astounding given the unprecedented violent crime surge in Chicago, with the number of murders in 2016 surpassing both New York and Los Angeles combined," Sessions added. "The city's leaders cannot follow some laws and ignore others and reasonably expect this horrific situation to improve."

That's in direct opposition to the argument put forth by Emanuel and the city in its federal lawsuit, which contends that forcing local police to enforce immigration laws would dry up cooperation from the immigrant community. Addressing that issue, the lawsuit contends "the administration's rhetoric is divorced from reality."

Chicago's Welcoming City Ordinance, according to the lawsuit, "promotes public safety by ensuring that no city resident or visitor, regardless of immigration status, is afraid to cooperate with law enforcement, report criminal activity to the police, testify as a witness in court or seek help as a victim of crime." It also ensures "police officers focus on criminal activity occurring in Chicago instead of federal civil immigration infractions."

Chicago Tribune's John Byrne contributed.

hdardick@chicagotribune.com

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