Chicago sues DOJ over policy that would deprive sanctuary cities of funding

The city called the policy "unauthorized and unconstitutional."

CREDIT: AP Photo/Alan Diaz
CREDIT: AP Photo/Alan Diaz

On Monday, the city of Chicago filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) over a policy that would withhold federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities,” a non-legal term referring to cities that don’t require local police to detain people for immigration violations without a warrant, including Chicago.

The lawsuit concerns a new DOJ policy that requires local governments to allow federal immigration officials full access to jails and police stations and requires local law enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants in custody for at least 48 hours for the benefit of the Department of Homeland Security. Cities who fail to comply with the statute completely will be cut off from a federal grant which provides funds for public safety and defense. But the city of Chicago says complying with the policy would be in violation of its “Welcoming City ordinance,” which forbids any agency within the city from inquiring about or disclosing an individual’s immigration status except in special circumstances.

Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel said in a statement on Sunday that the policy change would require the city to “choose between strengthening our police department and the rights of Chicago’s residents as a welcoming city.”

“Chicago’s Welcoming City ordinance promotes public safety by ensuring that no city resident, regardless of their status,is afraid to cooperate with law enforcement, report criminal activity to the police, or serve as a witness in court,” he added.

A DOJ spokeswoman told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday night that Emanuel was “spending time and taxpayer money protecting criminal aliens and putting Chicago’s law enforcement at greater risk.” The lawyers representing Chicago in the suit are working pro bono.

The lawsuit and the new DOJ policy revolve around the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, a federal grant program that was worth over $260 million to states and cities in 2016. Last year, Chicago received $2.3 million in funds, which the city used to purchase things like SWAT equipment, police vehicles, radios, and Tasers. Chicago is arguing that the new conditions violate the Fourth Amendment. Applications for the grants in 2017 are due September 5.

Chicago is not alone in seeking legal action against policies that target sanctuary cities. In June, both San Antonio and Austin filed lawsuits against the state of Texas over SB4, a law that would target sanctuary cities within the state by charging state workers who refused to comply with immigration officials with misdemeanors and fining them heavily. Austin mayor Steve Adler accused the Texas legislature of “playing political football with the safety of our city.” California may be the next state to sue the Trump administration over the policy, and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has also said he supports a possible lawsuit against Trump over the policy. In January, San Francisco filed a suit against an Executive Order concerning sanctuary cities, which led to a temporary ruling stating that the Trump administration could not withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities.

Chicago’s suit asks the federal court to declare the new policy “unlawful” and certify that Chicago is not in violation of any relevant federal laws.