THE LOOP — Attorney General Jeff Sessions' effort to yank federal funds from sanctuary cities like Chicago is "absurd," "ridiculous on its face" "unprecedented" and "tremendously dangerous," attorneys for the city of Chicago told a federal judge Monday.
Lawyers for the city asked Judge Harry D. Leinenweber to block the Trump administration from imposing conditions Sessions added 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.
"What the attorney general is trying to do amounts to an unprecedented seizure of power," said former federal prosecutor Ron Safer who is representing the city at no cost to taxpayers. "It would set a tremendously dangerous precedent."
After the hearing, Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel said that if the federal government was successful, the Trump administration was likely to place additional conditions on federal grant money that Chicago residents would find odious.
"The mayor likened this to the camel's nose under the tent when we announced this lawsuit," Siskel said. "Since then, it has become clear they are pushing the whole camel under the tent."
The loss of the funds — that the city wants to expand the the Shotspotter program that detects gunshots with high-powered microphones — would threaten the safety of every Chicago resident, Safer told the judge.
However, Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler said language in the 2006 law passed by Congress and signed by former President George W. Bush gives an assistant attorney general the authority to place conditions on the Byrne grant, a move that he called not "unusual" and in keeping with practices in effect under former President Barack Obama.
Leinenweber gave no indication of when he planned to rule after the nearly two-hour hearing at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, during which he closely questioned attorneys for both sides in the case that would take effect throughout the nation.
At one point, the judge said the city's attorneys had made a "fairly good" argument. Leinenweber referred to undocumented immigrants as "illegal aliens" three times during the hearing.
The judge also questioned whether the city's status as a self-declared "sanctuary city," where officers are prohibited from cooperating with federal immigration agents in most cases, would allow a convicted drug dealer to go free. Attorneys for the city assured him it would not.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has 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 "sanctuary city."
If the conditions imposed by Sessions are upheld, 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," officials said.
That could force the Police Department to hold men and women under investigation longer than the constitutionally mandated 48 hours, Siskel said.
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."
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.
This year, city officials applied for $1.5 million from the grant named for New York Police Officer Edward Byrne, who was slain on duty in 1988, said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the Law Department.