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Sessions Scales Back Threat To Chicago, Other Sanctuary Cities

 U.S Sen. Jeff Sessions addresses U.S. senators Tuesday during his confirmation hearing to become the next U.S. attorney general.
U.S Sen. Jeff Sessions addresses U.S. senators Tuesday during his confirmation hearing to become the next U.S. attorney general.
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PBS Newshour

CITY HALL — The Trump administration scaled back its threat Monday against "sanctuary cities" like Chicago, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to yank only grants used to fight crime and terrorism — not all federal funds as the president originally threatened.

That means Chicago could lose approximately $10.7 million in grants it expects this year from the Department of Justice and an undetermined amount from the Department of Homeland Security — a tiny fraction of the city's $8.2 billion 2017 spending plan.

Four days after taking office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that declared that "jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply [with federal immigration laws] are not eligible to receive federal grants except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes."

That initial order raised the possibility that Chicago stood to lose $1.3 billion — 14 percent of its budget — if Trump made good on his threat, and city officials refused to stop protecting undocumented immigrants as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has vowed.

Sessions said in a statement Monday that the president's order "will be applied solely to federal grants administered by the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security, and not to other sources of federal funding.”

Jurisdictions that "willfully refuse" to comply with federal immigration law could find those grants in jeopardy, Sessions wrote.

In April, a judge blocked Trump's executive order, saying it contained "broad and threatening language" that "impermissibly" threatened cities like Chicago determined to protect undocumented immigrants with the loss of all federal grants.

However, the judge ruled that the Trump administration could enforce existing conditions on federal law enforcement grants.

After the ruling, Trump vowed to appeal the judge's ruling to the Supreme Court in a tweet, and the White House said in a statement that sanctuary cities like Chicago "are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands."

Emanuel praised the judge's ruling, saying it proved that the president's action was unconstitutional.

"The mayor was clear [Sunday] when he launched our One Chicago campaign, and we'll be clear again today: No matter how the administration words the executive order, Chicago's values are not for sale," said Matt McGrath, a spokesman for the mayor. "Beyond that, the notion that an administration that claims to be focused on safety and security would try to cut funding for anti-terrorism, airport security and public safety programs in cities across the country is bizarre."

One Chicago is a campaign designed to highlight the fact "that everyone is welcome in this city no matter their race, religion, background or sexual orientation," according to the mayor's office.

In April, Sessions warned that Chicago and Cook County could lose access to the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which is the leading source of federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies.

In 2016, Chicago got $2.3 million through the grant, which was expanded by the Obama Administration to allow cities to purchase body cameras after a series of fatal encounters between police officers and unarmed civilians. The city got about the same amount from the grant in 2015, city records show.

City officials had expected to get $3.2 million in 2017 from the grant named for New York Police Officer Edward Byrne, who was slain on duty in 1988, said Molly Poppe, a spokeswoman for Emanuel.

In addition, the city had been counting on $7.5 million in law enforcement grants from the Department of Justice, Poppe said. The city also has $4-5 million left over from previous years' grants that has yet to be spent, she added.