U.S. warns Chicago, Cook County: Cooperate on immigration or face funding cut

Chicago and Cook County were among nine jurisdictions across the country warned by the U.S. Justice Department on Friday they could lose federal crime-prevention funds it they do not provide proof by June 30 that they are assisting immigration enforcement efforts.

The warning, in the form of letters to Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and officials in New York City, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and California, escalates an ongoing clash between local authorities nationwide and President Donald Trump on what role local police departments and sheriffs should play in carrying out the administration’s immigration crackdown.

Both Chicago and Cook County officials insisted after receiving the letter signed by Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson that they would continue to refuse to alert federal officials that they have detained immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally unless the requests are accompanied by a judicial order.

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“Neither the facts nor the law are on [the Justice Department’s] side,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “Regardless, let me be clear: Chicago’s values and Chicago’s future are not for sale.” Johnson’s spokesman declined to elaborate further.

“It remains our position that the County complies with all applicable federal laws,” said Frank Shuftan, Preckwinkle’s spokesman, said in a statement.

At issue is whether local jurisdictions are in compliance with a federal statute that took effect in 2002 that requires cities and counties to cooperate with immigration officials seeking to identify individuals in the country illegally.

Justice Department letter to sanctuary jurisdictions by Injustice Watch on Scribd

Both Chicago and Cook County have adopted ordinances limiting the voluntary cooperation they will offer federal immigration officials, making them among the so-called “sanctuary cities,” most of which are large urban areas with significant concentrations of undocumented residents. During the Obama administration, many sheriff’s departments withdrew from federal cooperation, after a series of federal court rulings found that they were not required to detain inmates when requested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and that they could be violating the Fourth Amendment if they did so without a warrant.

The dispute developed in 2016 after the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that favors restrictions on immigration, wrote to U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, the head of the appropriations committee, questioning whether local jurisdictions receiving grant money were violating the federal statute.

Culberson passed the inquiry on to then-U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch, setting off an Inspector General investigation that found the Chicago ordinance, which states “no agent or agency shall disclose information regarding the citizenship or immigration status of any person unless required to do so by legal process or such disclosure has been authorized in writing by the individual to whom such information pertains,” was in conflict with federal law.

The Cook County ordinance, the inspector found, like ordinances in other cities, was not explicitly in conflict, but still “appeared inconsistent with the intent” of the federal law and could affect “the interactions” between federal and local authorities.

The May, 2016 report of Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz concluded that federal authorities could take several steps to ensure better compliance, including requiring that jurisdictions receiving grant money certify that they were in compliance with the law each year.

In fiscal year 2016, Chicago and Cook County received over $2 million through the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, known as the main source of federal funding for local governments to strengthen crime prevention efforts. The money can also be used on law enforcement, court programs, drug treatment, victim services and community corrections.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the President both had been threatening for weeks to cut off grant funding for “sanctuary cities.” In its release, the Justice Department appeared to link these jurisdictions with rising crime rates and blamed them for being “soft on crime.”

“Many of these jurisdictions are … crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime,” the release stated. “The number of murders in Chicago has skyrocketed, rising more than 50 percent from the 2015 levels.”

A recent study by researchers at the University of California – Riverside and Hillside College found no statistically significant link between sanctuary policies and increased crime.

Christopher Lasch, a University of Denver law professor who studies the overlap of criminal justice and immigration enforcement, called the Justice warning “another move in the Trump administration’s overreach on this issue.”

Lasch said the Justice Department has not properly evaluated if each city’s “sanctuary” policy truly violates the 2002 federal statute, which focuses on requiring local agencies to communicate information about arrestees’ immigration status to ICE.

“Most of the sanctuary policies across the country don’t have anything to do with communication,” Lasch said, adding that the policies instead limit police’s authority to arrest immigrants on the basis of their legal status.

Lasch said the federal statute raises Constitutional concerns of whether the federal government has authority to “tell local governments what they can and can’t do.”

Some local governments have sued Trump over his January executive order to defund sanctuary jurisdictions. Chicago is a member of a group of cities that last month jointly filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the County of Santa Clara’s pending suit in San Francisco federal court.