by Editorial Board
Mayor Rahm Emanuel took Chicago’s legitimate defense of the sanctuary city concept to court Monday, challenging the Trump administration’s effort to compel Chicago cops to cooperate with the feds on immigration investigations.
This fight has been building since President Donald Trump took office, issuing intemperate warnings of “bad hombres” and drawing excitable connections that do not exist between immigrant populations and crime problems in Chicago and elsewhere.
We’d like to think that the sooner the sanctuary city sideshow is cast aside by the courts, the sooner Congress might take up the substantive issue of immigration reform, which would bring millions of people out of the shadows. But we’re not in the business of handicapping the courts, or Congress. All we can do is hope logic prevails, and the Trump administration is forced to abandon this immigration stunt because it’s not a recipe for making Chicago safer.
The city’s lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, challenges the Justice Department’s attempt to, in effect, deputize the Chicago Police Department as part-time U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants police to identify and hold onto anyone they come across who appears to be in the country without permission, until ICE can investigate. When we say Sessions “wants” Chicago’s help, actually he’d be requiring cooperation in exchange for financial assistance. Unless the city agrees, the Justice Department says it will withhold federal grant money that can be used for a broad array of local crime prevention programs.
That money comes from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, a longstanding federal initiative created by Congress to support law enforcement. Chicago has used annual Byrne money for things like new police vehicles and community policing outreach. This year the city plans to apply for $3.2 million, but the Trump administration has changed the rules. To get the money, the Justice Department will now require the city to share information on the immigration status of arrestees and hold those people for 48 hours to give immigration officials a chance to intervene. As part of the new arrangement, the feds would be given unlimited access to local police stations and other law enforcement facilities for interrogation.
Those demands imagine policing practices that do not exist in Chicago and elsewhere because local cops and mayors want to fight crime, not enforce immigration statutes. And with good reason: First, police forces have their hands full. Second, if police become involved in immigration enforcement, it will make immigrants less likely to report a crime or help as witnesses. This will make the city less safe.
The idea of separating local law and immigration enforcement is key to what’s known as the sanctuary city, or welcoming city, movement. In Chicago, police and other officials don’t ask about or arrest individuals over their immigration status. Local crimefighters don’t work hand in hand with the agents who enforce immigration laws.
The Trump administration asserts that Chicago has its priorities wrong, suggesting that sanctuary city practices contribute to rising crime. But no such evidence exists: Studies show that people in the U.S. without permission are less likely to commit crimes than citizens.
In its lawsuit, Chicago’s legal defense of sanctuary city rests on both the specifics of the Byrne program and broader constitutional grounds. The city maintains that Congress created this program without providing any wiggle room for the attorney general to impose additional obligations. Constitutionally, state and local authorities have spheres of responsibility the federal government can’t override. The Supreme Court has found, for example, that local police and sheriffs could not be compelled to help with federal background checks on gun buyers, and that states couldn’t be deprived of all federal Medicaid funds for refusing to expand Medicaid as part of Obamacare.
“The executive branch cannot use its grant-making power to commandeer local law enforcement functions to carry out what is a civil immigration function of the federal government,” city Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel told us.
We’ll find out if his arguments hold up. This court case reflects an important public safety issue. But it’s not the one that Trump and Sessions think it is.