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Sessions is “blackmailing” sanctuary cities, Chicago lawsuit claims

The city of Chicago on Monday sued Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claiming the new Justice Department policy of withholding federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities is “unauthorized and unconstitutional.”

According to the new criteria, cities or counties seeking grant money for criminal justice programs must comply with federal immigration authorities, including granting them free rein at local jail facilities and keeping suspected undocumented immigrants in custody longer than their original sentence.


City officials, in the federal complaint, say that the latest move by Sessions is an example of the Trump administration’s “aggressive and escalating efforts” to cow local jurisdictions into complying with its immigration agenda.

In doing so, the suit charges, the DOJ is threatening “cities that have exercised their basic right to self-government.”

“Chicago will not be blackmailed into changing our values, and we are and will remain a welcoming city,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement. “The City of Chicago will continue to stand up to President Trump and his Justice Department to ensure that their misguided policies do not threaten the safety of our residents.”

New York and Los Angeles are among the other sanctuary cities considering joining Chicago in its suit, NBC reported.

Chicago, like many major cities, has long depended on the large amounts awarded annually through the DOJ’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance (JAG) Program. In the past, Chicago has used those funds to advance the police department’s technology (for example, to purchase Tasers and SWAT vehicles), beef up resources to deal with a particular issue like gun crime, improve drug treatment programs, prosecutions, and so on.

In 2016, Chicago, which is one of the handful of U.S. cities grappling with soaring homicide rates, received $2.3 million through the program. The deadline for applications is Sept. 5.

Two weeks ago, the DOJ released the updated applications that cities need to fill out if they want to secure federal funding through the Byrne Program in 2017. The new criteria are as follows:


  • ICE agents must be granted access to any correctional or detention center to meet with an individual who is undocumented or suspected of being undocumented.
  • Local or state authorities must be willing to coordinate and communicate with federal authorities from the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Detention facilities, including local jails, must give federal authorities a 48-hour advance warning before they release an individual suspected of violating federal immigration law.

In a press release, Chicago officials said that the conditions would “effectively federalize local detention facilities” and risk violating residents’ Fourth Amendment rights by requiring them to be detained after they are lawfully eligible for release from police custody. The complaint says that the new rules also “fly in the face of long-standing City policy that promotes cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.”

So-called sanctuary cities generally eschew the kind of cooperation that Sessions wants, saying that compliance undermines their values and could have a chilling effect on undocumented residents’ willingness to report crimes in their community, making their cities more dangerous as a result.

The irony of Sessions using the Edward Byrne slush fund to fire his warning shots at sanctuary cities isn’t lost on his critics. Byrne was a rookie NYPD cop killed in the line of duty in 1988 while protecting a Guyanese immigrant who was being targeted by local criminals after he reported crime in his area of Jamaica, Queens.