Chicago sues Trump administration in battle over immigration enforcement

The City of Chicago turned to the federal courts Monday in its battle with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions over immigration enforcement, challenging new U.S. Department of Justice rules that would cut off federal law enforcement grants if the city did not change its policy.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, is the latest volley over the Trump administration’s efforts to force local police to aid Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in their efforts to find and deport foreign nationals who have violated immigration laws.

Chicago is one of many jurisdictions across the country whose funding for certain law enforcement grants is being threatened because they are refusing to interrogate residents about their immigration status, and from disclosing citizenship information without a legal mandate. The Trump administration contends those jurisdictions, referred to as “sanctuary cities,” are breeding crime. Local officials have said that efforts by local police agencies to aggressively pursue immigration issues would backfire, inflaming community distrust and hampering law enforcement.

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The Justice Department in July added new conditions to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant for its fiscal year 2017 recipients, after earlier this year threatening Chicago, Cook County and seven other jurisdictions with the loss of grant funds if they did not prove their compliance with immigration enforcement efforts. The new conditions would require cities and counties receiving the funds to notify the Department of Homeland Security 48 hours before releasing suspected undocumented immigrants from police or jail custody, and to allow immigration agents access to local detention facilities to interrogate immigrants.

In April, Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson sent letters to Chicago and other jurisdictions that receive the Justice Assistance Grant, asking them to prove compliance with a federal statute that requires cities and counties to communicate information about arrestees’ immigration status to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

But the new grant conditions, the city contends, are more far-reaching and “have no legal basis.” Because Chicago police do not typically detain arrestees for longer than a day, the conditions would prove logistically difficult and raise civil rights concerns by potentially subjecting arrestees to prolonged detention, the suit states.

Chicago received $2.3 million from the grant last fiscal year, according to the lawsuit, and since fiscal year 2005 has used money from the grant to fund various police and violence prevention programs. Grant funding also trickles through Chicago to Cook County and suburban municipalities, and has been given to other police departments and nonprofits working on curbing crime in local communities.

“The Department has thus put Chicago to an impossible choice: sacrifice its sovereignty and its residents’ safety by acceding to unlawful funding demands that will undermine community-officer trust and cooperation built over decades,” the suit states, “or forfeit crucial monies on which it has relied for more than a decade to fund essential policing operations.”

Sessions issued a statement in response to the lawsuit Monday afternoon.

“No amount of federal taxpayer dollars will help a city that refuses to help its own residents,” Sessions said, citing high levels of violent crime in Chicago. “The city’s leaders cannot follow some laws and ignore others and reasonably expect this horrific situation to improve.”