WASHINGTON — Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., confronted Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday over his move to reduce federal crime-fighting money to Chicago because it is a “sanctuary city,” telling him illegal immigrants are not responsible for ongoing gun violence.
Durbin and Sessions tangled at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing. Sessions is a former senator who sat on the panel.
In the blunt exchange, Durbin told Sessions that Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has said that illegal immigrants are not the source of Chicago’s problems with gun violence – with over 500 fatal shootings so far this year.
The backstory to Wednesday’s clash: This is about the intersection of two issues of importance to Chicago, the years-long struggle to contain gun violence and its status as a so-called “sanctuary city.”
No expert on Chicago crime has blamed the high number of shootings in the city on illegal immigrants. The Trump administration is trying to cut federal crime fighting grants to Chicago and other sanctuary cities to pressure officials into cooperating with federal immigration agents.
That’s why Durbin told Sessions, “You want to cut back these funds because you want the city of Chicago to play the role of immigration police on federal civil laws. Mr. Attorney General, you are not helping us solve the murder problem in the city of Chicago by taking away these federal funds.
“And the superintendent says your pursuit of undocumented immigrants has little or nothing to do with gun violence in Chicago.”
President Donald Trump for more than a year – starting on the campaign trail – has been slamming Chicago for its inability to curb gun violence, and Sessions eagerly piles on.
Trump repeatedly invokes an unnamed Chicago cop he supposedly talked to during the presidential campaign who told him Chicago shootings could easily be solved in a few days. A week ago, Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity this anonymous cop told him violent crime would end “if they let us do our job.” Does this cop exist? So far there is no evidence that he does. Trump has made no effort to find this genius no one has been able to identify.
So keep this in mind while considering Sessions’ reply to Durbin. Sessions never addressed the main Durbin point: Chicago’s sanctuary city status is not the cause of ongoing horrible gun violence.
At the hearing, Sessions portrayed himself as a champion of the Chicago police, a move to drive a wedge between rank-and-file police and the police brass and the city, led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Sessions said “good community-based policing is essential . . . I’m worried about the health and morale of the Chicago Police Department, we’d like to see that improved.
“I think the politicians cannot say that if you removed a violent criminal from America that’s in the country illegally, and he is arrested by the Chicago Police and put in a Chicago jail, that once they are released they shouldn’t be turned over to the federal ICE officers so they can be removed from the country. They are here illegally to begin with, much less commit another crime. . . . How does that make the city of Chicago safer when you don’t remove criminals who are illegally in the country?”
Durbin, noting Sessions’ earlier remarks kicking off the hearing responded, “You can’t give an opening statement throwing a bouquet to local police and then ignore what the superintendent of police in Chicago tells you. It has nothing to do with gun violence. You want to cut off federal funds to the city and come here and criticize the murder rate.”
At issue in Chicago and other sanctuary cities is the Justice Department decision in March to strip what are known as “Edward Bryne” grants from sanctuary cities shielding undocumented immigrants. The grants are used to buy an assortment of crime-fighting equipment such as vehicles, tasers and gunshot spotting technology.
The city of Chicago sued Sessions and the Justice Department in August. U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber in September issued a nationwide preliminary injunction to bar the Justice Department from adding new conditions to the grants related to undocumented immigrants.
Since the lawsuit was filed, Sessions has been slamming what he called Chicago’s “culture of lawlessness,” saying at one point, “for the sake of their city, Chicago’s leaders need to recommit to policies that punish criminals instead of protecting them.”
The city has applied for a new round of Byrne grant funding even as it opposes the new Justice Department conditions.