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Chicago Sues Trump Administration Over Threats To Yank Federal Funds

By  Tanveer Ali and Heather Cherone | August 7, 2017 10:54am | Updated on August 11, 2017 11:47am

"We believe we will prevail," Chicago Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel said Monday, after filing a lawsuit against the Department of Justice.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CHICAGO — Attorneys for the city of Chicago Monday asked a federal judge to block Attorney General Jeff Sessions' effort to yank federal funds from sanctuary cities like Chicago.

If the Trump administration is successful, Chicago will be less safe, Chicago Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel said Monday at the Dirksen Courthouse after filing the lawsuit against the Department of Justice.

"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 climate of fear within the communities in our city," Siskel said. "We are going to fight and stand up for our values as a welcoming city."

The legal challenge is not costing Chicago taxpayers a dime, Siskel said. The city is being represented for free by Washington, D.C.-based law firm Wilmer Hale and the Chicago-based law firm Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila. In January, Siskel left Wilmer Hale to take over as the city's top lawyer.

Sessions responded to the city's lawsuit by noting that more people have been killed in Chicago this year than in New York and Los Angeles combined and asserting that a "culture of lawlessness has beset the city."

"To a degree perhaps unsurpassed by any other jurisdiction, the political leadership of Chicago has chosen deliberately and intentionally to adopt a policy that obstructs this country's lawful immigration system," Session said in a statement.

Here's the lawsuit:

"Since the 1980s, the City has directed its police officers to prioritize local law
enforcement and public safety rather than diverting time, attention, and resources to investigating residents’ immigration status," the lawsuit reads.

The city does comply with a federal statute that requires local government to share information they have about immigration status with federal agencies, according the lawsuit.

"In fact, Chicago officials simply do not collect immigration status information in the first place, and thus there is no information for the City to share (or restrict from sharing)," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed a day after a rare Sunday afternoon press conference held by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

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. "We will not allow our officers to be turned into political pawns."

The city's lawsuit asks 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."

A 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."

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 to 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 withhold 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.