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City Officials To Trump: We Won't 'Knuckle Under' To Threats

By Heather Cherone | August 6, 2017 1:17pm | Updated on August 7, 2017 8:41am
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced city officials will ask a judge to block an effort to limit federal grants to sanctuary cities, including Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced city officials will ask a judge to block an effort to limit federal grants to sanctuary cities, including Chicago.
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CITY HALL — Vowing not to "knuckle under" to threats from the Trump administration, attorneys for the city of Chicago plan to ask a federal judge Monday to block Attorney General Jeff Sessions' effort to yank federal funds from sanctuary cities, like Chicago.

At a rare Sunday afternoon press conference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel cast the effort by Trump administration efforts as an attempt to force Chicago to choose between its renewed commitment to community policing and its status as a self-declared "sanctuary city," where officers are prohibited from cooperating with federal immigration agents in most cases.

"It is a false choice, a wrong choice," Emanuel said, flanked by several alderman, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago). "We will not allow our officers to be turned into political pawns."

The city's top attorney, Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel, said city officials will ask a judge to immediately block conditions Sessions added Thursday to the applications for the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which is the leading source of federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies.

Those conditions are unlawful and unconstitutional, Siskel said. 

Cities that get the grant would have to "allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities," Sessions said in a statement.

That could force the Police Department to hold men and women under investigation longer than the constitutionally mandated 48 hours, Siskel said.

"We need people to work with our officers and trust our officers," Emanuel said.

Supt. Eddie Johnson said the Police Department needs federal resources to "achieve its goals" of turning back the surge of violence that swept the city in 2016 and has shown no sign of abating. The Trump administration should not "play politics with public safety," Johnson added.

"We will not compromise the rights of Chicagoans," Johnson said. "We will not break that sacred trust."

161-page report by the Department of Justice released Jan. 13 concluded that the department must embrace community policing as "a core philosophy" in order to end officers' routine violations of the civil rights of residents by using excessive force caused by poor training and nonexistent supervision.

Johnson said the Police Department on his watch would not waver from that path. Emanuel said new rules and regulations outlining the department's renewed emphasis on community policing would be released later this week.

"We will not knuckle under to threats," Johnson said. "We don't want to alienate people."

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle praised the city's decision to sue the Trump administration in a statement issued shortly after Emanuel's announcement. Cook County, which also prohibits the Sheriff's Department from cooperating with immigration officers, is considering its "legal options going forward," Preckwinkle said.

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.

Sessions has repeatedly criticized Chicago for declaring itself a "sanctuary city," saying those policies tie the hands of law enforcement by "undermining federal laws that would remove criminal, illegal aliens from the streets and remove them from this country."

In a February speech, President Donald Trump blamed rising violence in Chicago on undocumented immigrants, but gave no evidence to support his claim.

Emanuel acknowledged that the Byrne Grant — which the city has used to purchased police vehicles, radios and stun guns — amounts for a tiny fraction of the city's $8.2 billion 2017 budget.

However, Emanuel said the conditions placed on applications for the Byrne Grant — due Sept. 5 — amount to a "camel's nose under the tent," and if successful would certainly lead to additional punitive actions against sanctuary cities like Chicago.

"This is true to who we are," Emanuel said, noting that Chicago would be the first city to take the Trump administration to court on this issue. "I expect other cities to follow suit."

Emanuel said the city's legal strategy would rely on a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found that the federal government could not withold funds in an attempt to force states to expand Medicaid.

In April, a federal judge blocked an initial order by Sessions that raised the possibility that Chicago stood to lose $1.3 billion — 14 percent of its budget. The president's executive order contained "broad and threatening language" that "impermissibly" threatened cities like Chicago determined to protect undocumented immigrants with the loss of all federal grants, the judge ruled.

However, that ruling did not stop the federal government from enforcing existing conditions on federal law enforcement grants. The Obama administration also required cities to promise to follow federal immigration laws.

As Emanuel considers whether to run for a third term as mayor, he has repeatedly touted Chicago as a city of immigrants and said he was determined to protect them from attacks by Trump, who vowed during the campaign to deport all undocumented immigrants.

In addition, to launching a $1.3 million legal defense fund that helped 600 immigrants, Emanuel has launched One Chicago, 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.

The Illinois Chapter of American Civil Liberties Union have urged Emanuel and the City Council to do more to protect undocumented immigrants in Chicago, adding its name to demands made by representatives of several groups made up of black and Latino Chicagoans shortly after Trump's inauguration.