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Editorial: Trump attacks Chicago’s values on sanctuary ordinances

Protesters with signs at a San Franciso rally.

Protesters in San Francisco rally against President Donald Trump's order to punish sanctuary cities. The president also wants an aggressive push on deportations. | Jeff Chiu/AP

President Donald Trump is sending millions of people back into the shadows.

By executive order on Wednesday, Trump announced a crackdown on immigration and targeted urban areas, such as Chicago and Cook County, that have so-called sanctuary ordinances. Such laws spell out when local law enforcement agencies will cooperate with federal authorities to arrest or detain undocumented immigrants.

Trump’s order calls for the revocation of federal funds to sanctuary cities and counties, but it does not specify how much will be taken away.

So far, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are sticking with the ordinances. That is the right move, not only for reasons of compassion but to promote stability in our neighborhoods.


The general point of sanctuary ordinances is to not arrest or detain anybody whose primary offense is being undocumented. Chicago established its ordinance for the most practical of reasons, to establish a necessary trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. Supporters of the ordinance pointed out that undocumented immigrants who are fearful of being deported won’t come forward when cops need witnesses and tips to solve crimes.

County officials also cited liability issues and the cost — about $15 million each year — of detaining undocumented immigrants as justifications for the ordinance. The county policy allows for cooperation when immigration officers provide warrants. Chicago also cooperates under certain conditions.

Trump’s order gives his Attorney General, likely to be Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly authority to revoke federal grants, “except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or Secretary.”

Without an act by Congress, the order surely will invite lawsuits by municipalities. Even with help from Congress, it could face court challenges. “There are limits on how coercive the government can be,” says William Baude, a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago.

A proposed law by Congress in 2015 to punish sanctuary cities would have cost Chicago and Cook a combined $10.54 million. That seems like a paltry amount today, given new estimates offered in December by the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. It concludes that if Congress goes along with Trump and revokes funding, Chicago could lose $78 million to $1.3 billion in 2017.

Trump, who also issued an order Wednesday to build a wall on the Mexican border, will create havoc in immigrant communities. His order calls for a renewed push on deportations and gives immigration officers vast leeway to expel undocumented immigrants from the U.S. So far, he has spared the Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who received a reprieve from deportation under former President Barack Obama.

Trump’s orders may do little to improve national security. They are already stoking fear.

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