Chicago files lawsuit against Justice Dept for withholding money from sanctuary cities

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Rahm Emanuel has taken his fight against President Donald Trump's immigration policies to court, with Chicago becoming one of the first cities Monday to sue over what many U.S. cities argue are illegal bids to withhold public safety grants from so-called sanctuary cities.

The Trump administration says it will withhold public safety grant money unless Chicago gets rid of its sanctuary city status.

The 46-page lawsuit is challenging the new regulations as imposing unconstitutional requirements on Chicago Police that would have a chilling impact on their efforts to fight crime in immigrant communities.

The new regulations would require Chicago Police to allow immigration agents to have unrestricted access to police stations and to give those agents 48 hours notice before detainees are released so their immigration status could be checked.

"First of all it's illegal. We have 48 hours to hold people, whatever we need to get done has to get done in that 48 hours. And if it's not, we let them go. That's the law and I refuse to put these police officers in a position where they could get sued because we're breaking the law. I'm not gonna do that," said Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson.

At stake for Chicago, $3.2 million federal grant for 2017. In previous years the money has been used to buy squad cars as well as gear such as tasers, computers and radios. The Trump Administration's regulations target sanctuary cities because their policies bar police from enforcing immigration laws.

"The city of Chicago cannot under the law and under the constitution be forced to make a choice between either sacrificing critical grant funds for public safety or agreeing to conditions that directly violate the Constitution," said Edward Siskel, Chicago Corporation Counsel.

"This administration will not simply give away grant dollars to city governments that proudly violate the rule of law and protect criminal aliens at the expense of public safety. So it's this simple: Comply with the law or forego taxpayer dollars." said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in part in a statement on Monday.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he won't put his officers in the position of being sued for doing something unconstitutional.

"I just don't think you should play politics with public safety. We have an obligation to keep the people of this city safe, for them to try to put the police in the middle of this is just, it's not right," said Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson.

One of the main sponsors of Chicago's Welcoming City Ordinance said the mayor's lawsuit was hypocritical because proposed changes to the city's ordinance to further protect illegal immigrants has languished in the city council.

"I hope that now that the mayor has positioned himself as a champion of the Fourth amendment, that he will do what he has in his power to do right now and defend the Fourth amendment by removing the deportation loopholes that are in our sanctuary city policy right now," said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward).

The mayor said withholding federal money for police unless they enforce immigration laws amounts to blackmail. But his corporation counsel said the lawsuit was not filed with the 2019 mayoral election in mind.

"This is not about politics, this is about protecting the constitutional rights of the residents of the City of Chicago," said Ed Siskel, Chicago Corporation Counsel.

The new policies are part of the Trump Administration's efforts to deport more people who are here illegally.

"The rhetoric and the threats from this administration embodied in these new conditions imposed on unrelated public safety grant funds are breeding a culture and a climate of fear within the communities in our city," said Siskel.

The city plans to ask the judge to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the new regulations from being imposed before the September 5 grant application deadline.


"When you look at the amount of federal dollars that the City of Chicago receives for various things, including the safety and security of our residents, it totals almost $1.3 billion. And if we don't stand up now and say that what the president and Jeff Sessions are trying to do to our city is illegal and unconstitutional then all of those dollars are at risk," said Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward).

"I represent a neighborhood that is about 60 percent mixed status. So the uncle, the grandma, the tio, might be undocumented and imagine what happens when the police show up and ask 'What's your immigration status,' they have to keep tabs, it's against human rights and people are just not going to call 911," said Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd Ward).

Also expressing his support for Chicago's lawsuit, former Mexican President Vicente Fox who tweeted out a message directed at President Trump.

On Sunday, when the city's announced its intention to file a lawsuit against the Justice Department, Mayor Emanuel called the Attorney General's threat to withhold grant money from sanctuary cities illegal and unconstitutional. This, after Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that cities wishing to apply for grant money will have to agree to: a) allow federal immigration access to local detention facilities; and b) provide 48 hours notice before they can release an undocumented immigrant wanted by federal authorities.

Chicago became the first city to sue the Justice Department over this issue. The National Immigrant Justice Center lent its support for the lawsuit on Sunday, saying the Justice Department's requirements constitute a violation of the Fourth amendment to the Constitution.
"Once that individual is found to no longer be a suspect or has paid his or her bond you cannot have the legal authority to continue to detain them," said Mary Meg McCarty with the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Chicago is being helped by two outside law firms on a pro bono basis.

Corporation Counsel Edward Siskel expressed confidence the city will prevail.

Federal officials have threatened to withhold federal funding for sanctuary cities, saying they don't comply with federal laws.

Attorney General Sessions full statement read:

"No amount of federal taxpayer dollars will help a city that refuses to help its own residents.

"This administration is committed to the rule of law and to enforcing the laws established by Congress. To a degree perhaps unsurpassed by any other jurisdiction, the political leadership of Chicago has chosen deliberately and intentionally to adopt a policy that obstructs this country's lawful immigration system. They have demonstrated an open hostility to enforcing laws designed to protect law enforcement - Federal, state, and local - and reduce crime, and instead have adopted an official policy of protecting criminal aliens who prey on their own residents. This is astounding given the unprecedented violent crime surge in Chicago, with the number of murders in 2016 surpassing both New York and Los Angeles combined. The city's leaders cannot follow some laws and ignore others and reasonably expect this horrific situation to improve.

"The Mayor complains that the federal government's focus on enforcing the law would require a 'reordering of law enforcement practice in Chicago.' But that's just what Chicago needs: a recommitment to the rule of law and to policies that rollback the culture of lawlessness that has beset the city.

"This administration will not simply give away grant dollars to city governments that proudly violate the rule of law and protect criminal aliens at the expense of public safety. So it's this simple: Comply with the law or forego taxpayer dollars."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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