Chicago’s showdown with feds over ‘sanctuary city’ status goes to court

CHICAGO -- Lawyers for the City of Chicago faced off with attorneys for the Trump administration in a federal courtroom Monday morning, challenging President Donald Trump's threat to withhold public safety grant money from Chicago and other sanctuary cities.

Mayor Emanuel and the City sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month after Sessions said in order to get millions of dollars in federal grant assistance for fighting crimes, cities had to allow federal immigration agents access to jails, police must notify federal agents 48 hours ahead of releasing an undocumented immigrant and local police must share information with immigration agents. Mayor Emanuel has refused to comply, saying  the feds don’t have the authority to put restrictions on the grants, and their demands may be unconstitutional.

"I urge ... every sanctuary city to reconsider carefully the harm they are doing to their residents by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement," Sessions said.

If it's non-compliant with these terms, Chicago could be poised to lose about $1.5 million in grants that would go towards buying new police cars and other police equipment, and funding the cities new shot spotter technology. CPD says the crime-fighting tool is essential because it helps police know where in the city gunshots are fired.

But this lawsuit is about more than just money. Monday's courtroom proceedings are just the first step in what will likely be a drawn out showdown between the City and federal officials. It also provided a clearer picture of how each side will argue the case.

Mincing no words, Chicago Corporation Council Ed Siskle told the federal judge the DOJ's position to withhold federal grant money to cities unless certain new conditions are met was "absurd," "ridiculous," "unlawful" and unconstitutional.

"The AG has not pointed to any authority for putting these conditions on federal grant dollars," Sidkle said.

DOJ attorneys left the courthouse without making any statements, but in court they argued it is long standing practice that conditions are placed on federal grants. For all intents and purposes, their argument was: "If you don't like the conditions don't ask for the money." The City says this case is different and would set a dangerous precedent.

The government’s lawyers argued in their opening statement that conditions have traditionally been attached to federal grants.  They say illegal immigrants make the city less safe.

Chicago argues the opposite is true; immigrants are less likely to report a crime or help police for fear of being caught up in immigration proceedings and deported.  Emanuel wants the city to be able to honor its humanitarian values of welcoming immigrants.

 

"We will not stand by and have our values as a welcoming city compromised," Emanuel said. "It goes directly to the ability to state and local law enforcement to make decisions to wage the crime fight."

The City argues it makes the city safer when undocumented immigrants can trust their immigration status will not be passed on to federal law enforcement if they go to police to report a crime or to give them information about a crime. Chicago says more than 30 other municipalities and some law enforcement associations side with them.