Justice Department moves against Chicago, other sanctuary cities

SHARE Justice Department moves against Chicago, other sanctuary cities

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, right, speaks as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly listens after the pair toured the ports of entry and met with Department of Justice and DHS personnel in El Paso, Texas, Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Ruben R. Ramirez/The El Paso Times via AP)

The Justice Department on Friday took its first steps to strip Chicago and Cook County of some crime-fighting grants as part of a drive to deny federal money to so-called “sanctuary cities” shielding illegal immigrants.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle were two of nine local officials sent a Justice Department letter setting a June 30 deadline to declare compliance with federal laws or risk losing $3.2 million in Justice Department grants.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel remained defiant: “Neither the facts, nor the law are on their side,” he said.

Besides Chicago and Cook County, letters were sent to officials in New York City, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, and California.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while in San Diego to observe border and immigration detention operations, discussed the sanctuary cities issue in his prepared remarks.

“Forcing local law enforcement to release criminal aliens only helps violent gangs and criminals,” Sessions said. “Sanctuary jurisdictions put criminals back on your streets. They help these gangs to refill their ranks and puts innocent life — including the lives of countless law-abiding immigrants – in danger by refusing to share vital information with federal law enforcement.”

The Sun-Times earlier reported that in Chicago, there was no known connection between illegal immigrants and the spike in the city’s violent crime.

In order to retain eligibility for federal grants, by the end of June a “Federal, State or local government entity or official” must confirm the jurisdiction “may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

In a press release, the Justice Department said that “many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime. The number of murders in Chicago has skyrocketed, rising more than 50 percent from the 2015 levels.

“New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city’s “soft on crime” stance. And just several weeks ago in California’s Bay Area, after a raid captured 11 MS-13 members on charges including murder, extortion and drug trafficking, city officials seemed more concerned with reassuring illegal immigrants that the raid was unrelated to immigration than with warning other MS-13 members that they were next.

“The letters remind the recipient jurisdictions that, as a condition for receiving certain financial year 2016 funding from the Department of Justice, each of these jurisdictions agreed to provide documentation and an opinion from legal counsel validating that they are in compliance with Section 1373. The Department of Justice expects each of these jurisdictions to comply with this grant condition and to submit all documentation to the Office of Justice Programs by June 30, 2017, the deadline imposed by the grant agreement.”

Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan said the county “is aware of this new requirement for federal grant funding, first announced under a prior administration. … It remains our position that the County complies with all applicable federal laws.”

Emanuel responded to the letter by standing his ground.

“Neither the facts, nor the law are on their side,” the mayor was quoted as saying in an emailed statement.

“Regardless, let me be clear: Chicago’s values and Chicago’s future are not for sale.”

The Emanuel administration has estimated that Chicago stands to lose $13.4 million in federal anti-crime grants if Sessions’ follows through on his threat to cut or even “claw back” Justice Department funds flowing to the so-called “sanctuary cities.”

The annual funding at stake for Chicago comes in the form of three federal grants: $3.05 million in federal asset forfeiture funds; $3.2 million in so-called Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants and $3.13 million under the so-called “Cops Hiring Program.”

The money is used for a host of law enforcement activities, ranging from hiring additional police officers to buying police vehicles and other equipment.

If Sessions follows through on his threat to “claw back” existing grants, Chicago stands to lose another $3.5 million-to-$4 million in “existing DOJ grants that have yet to be fully expended,” according to Molly Poppe, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Budget and Management.

Sessions has not yet said whether the “claw back” threat is confined to federal grants not fully expended, or whether he would seek to reclaim years of DOJ grant funding already spent.

The relatively low estimate helps to explain why the Wall Street rating agency Standard & Poor’s has concluded that Trump’s decision to authorize a federal funding cut off to sanctuary cities was “unlikely” to impact Chicago’s shaky bond rating—“at least in the near-term.”

Earlier this month, Sessions tried to put some political muscle behind the executive order Trump signed in January to authorize construction of a wall along the Mexican border and to cut off federal funding to “jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply” with immigration laws.

Sessions showed up at the start of the daily White House press briefing and threatened to cut or even “claw back” Justice Department funds flowing to sanctuary cities, counties and states.

The attorney general cited criminal acts by several illegal immigrants in San Francisco and Denver as he discussed how sanctuary localities violate federal law.

Emanuel responded by questioning the legality of Sessions’ threat and called it “a bit of a joke” at a time when DOJ funding is being cut.

“I find it a little ironic. They said they were gonna cut or withhold monies on public safety. Did you look at the President’s budget that he introduced? He actually cut the Justice Department. So, this is kind of like, in my view, a bit of a joke in that sense,” the mayor said then.

The mayor noted then that 34 other cities have “stood up” with Chicago in united opposition to Trump’s threat.

“We have a strong argument that they can’t do what they’re claiming they’re gonna do,” Emanuel said.

Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel, who served as deputy White House counsel during the Obama administration, branded Trump’s executive order “an unconstitutional attempt to force municipal police departments to aid in the enforcement of federal immigration law.”

“Despite professing concern for local law enforcement efforts, especially in Chicago, the order threatens to deny federal funding to local governments that refuse to be conscripted as auxiliary ICE agents,” Siskel said.

“While Chicago is in full compliance with the requirements of federal immigration law, we oppose the order’s intent.  Chicago is proud to stand with 34 cities and counties across the country in asking a federal court to prevent the federal government from illegally withholding federal funds.”

Contributing: Andy Grimm

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