Trump administration threatens anew cities, counties over policing immigration

The Trump administration on Wednesday renewed its threat to cut law enforcement grant funds from municipalities including Chicago and Cook County over the local governments’ policies not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

The U.S. Department of Justice sent letters to 23 government entities across the country, including the city of Chicago, Cook County, and the state of Illinois, threatening to subpoena them for documents proving their compliance with a federal statute that requires cities and counties to assist federal authorities in identifying potentially deportable immigrants.

If the documents on the municipalities’ policies show they do not comply with federal rules, they risk losing federal crime prevention grant money given by the Justice Department to local governments, and may be required to repay past grant money.

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“Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “We have seen too many examples of the threat to public safety represented by jurisdictions that actively thwart the federal government’s immigration enforcement — enough is enough.”

Many of the entities are so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions, which limit contact between local police and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel quickly issued a statement defending the city’s ordinance, which was designed to improve police relations with immigrant communities.

“The Trump Justice Department can try to intimidate us with legal threats, but we will never abandon our values as a welcoming city or the rights of Chicago residents,” Emanuel said. “The Trump Administration’s actions undermine public safety by jeopardizing our philosophy of community policing, as they attempt to drive a wedge between immigrant communities and the police who serve them.”

Frank Shuftan, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s spokesman, said in a statement, “Our position remains unchanged: we comply with all applicable federal laws.” He added, “We have in the past responded to DOJ’s requests for opinions and supporting documents to substantiate our position and will do so again as necessary.”

The Trump administration’s targeting of “sanctuary” jurisdictions has been at the center of legal battles and public controversy for the past year.

The Justice Department first threatened to withdraw grant funds last April through similar letters asking for proof that cities including Chicago were complying with the federal statute on assisting immigration authorities. Then in July the Department added new federal rules requiring cities and counties to notify immigration agents 48 hours before releasing undocumented immigrants from custody, and to allow agents access to local jails and police stations to interrogate immigrants.

In response, attorneys for the city of Chicago sued Sessions in federal court, leading to a nationwide injunction in September preventing the Trump administration from withdrawing funds based on the access and notification rules. But a federal judge left open the option for the Justice Department to check for compliance with the federal statute.

The Justice Department has a pending appeal of that order in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.