Sessions fires back at Chicago over sanctuary cities lawsuit

The fight reflects a deepening feud over immigration policy as the Trump administration cracks down.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, walks into city council chambers on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Chicago. After the session he held a press conference where sanctuary cities, which don't arrest or detain immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, and Chicago violence, two issues raised by President Donald Trump, were discussed. CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Marton
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, walks into city council chambers on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Chicago. After the session he held a press conference where sanctuary cities, which don't arrest or detain immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, and Chicago violence, two issues raised by President Donald Trump, were discussed. CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Marton

Attorney General Jeff Sessions slammed the city of Chicago on Monday, hours after Mayor Rahm Emmanuel (D) announced a lawsuit over the Department of Justice’s crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities.

“Chicago will not let our police officers become political pawns in a debate,” Emmanuel said earlier in the day, pushing back on threats from the Justice Department. Under Chicago’s current “Welcoming City ordinance,” local agencies are forbidden from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status apart from unique circumstances.

But that policy puts Chicago at odds with President Donald Trump’s administration. Under Sessions, the department has overseen a massive crackdown on immigration, stepping up raids and deportations. Sanctuary cities—cities that refuse to unreservedly comply with federal immigration law—have also come under attack. In March, Sessions announced that cities choosing this route could be cut off from federal grants —impacting an expected $4.1 billion in funding.

Several cities have already sued to counter the Justice Department’s efforts, including San Francisco and Seattle. Chicago, which received $2.3 million in law enforcement grants in 2016, is now taking similar action. At the heart of Chicago’s fight is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which awarded $260 million to states across the country last year. Applications to the grant are due September 5, and with millions on the line, the city is prepared to fight it out in court.

That isn’t going over well with Sessions, who issued a fiery statement shortly after Emmanuel declared that the city would challenge Trump’s administration over the withholdings.

“No amount of federal taxpayer dollars will help a city that refuses to help its own residents,” Sessions said. “This administration is committed to the rule of law and to enforcing the laws established by Congress. To a degree perhaps unsurpassed by any other jurisdiction, the political leadership of Chicago has chosen deliberately and intentionally to adopt a policy that obstructs this country’s lawful immigration system.”

Sessions went on to attack Chicago’s high crime rate, alluding to the city’s ongoing struggles, which include mistrust between residents and police.

“They have demonstrated an open hostility to enforcing laws designed to protect law enforcement — federal, state, and local — and reduce crime, and instead have adopted an official policy of protecting criminal aliens who prey on their own residents,” Sessions said. “This is astounding given the unprecedented violent crime surge in Chicago, with the number of murders in 2016 surpassing both New York and Los Angeles combined. The city’s leaders cannot follow some laws and ignore others and reasonably expect this horrific situation to improve.”

The Attorney General closed his comments by emphasizing that the federal government remains firm in its stance. “This administration will not simply give away grant dollars to city governments that proudly violate the rule of law and protect criminal aliens at the expense of public safety,” Sessions said. “So it’s this simple: Comply with the law or forego taxpayer dollars.”

The escalating spat reflects the wider immigration feud playing out across the country. Trump campaigned on a promise to crack down on immigration and end sanctuary cities, but his administration has been met with resistance at every level. While cities in states with progressive majorities have taken their fight directly to the national stage, those in areas with conservative leadership have been forced to fight state governments. Perhaps most notable is Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is facing lawsuits from virtually all major cities—including Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio—over SB4, a controversial law slapping those who refuse to comply on federal immigration requests with harsh fees, prison time, and possible removal from elected or appointed office.

Opponents of SB4 face an uphill battle, with the law set to take effect September 1 without legal intervention. Chicago is hoping for a different fate as the city fights for federal funding. In announcing the lawsuit, Emmanuel argued that the Justice Department’s move is forcing Chicago “to choose between our core values as a welcoming city and our fundamental principles of community policing.”

“It is a false choice, and a wrong choice,” he said.

Chicago’s relationship with the Justice Department is arguably strained for other reasons. Under former President Barack Obama, the department launched an investigation into the city’s police force. In January, Loretta Lynch, Sessions’ predecessor, announced that investigators had established a pattern of discriminatory police behavior, one in violation of the Constitution. Sessions has yet to say whether that investigation will be enforced by the Trump administration.