CHICAGO — As an ideological battle over immigration plays out between Chicago and President Donald Trump's administration, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is suing the justice department for withholding federal grant dollars for the police department.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who oversees the Department of Justice, has moved to block public safety funding for cities by linking federal funding for policing efforts to immigration policy enforcement. Sanctuary cities such as Chicago, which have drawn a bright line between enforcing local laws and federal immigration laws, have been hit hardest by such policies.
The city already has sued over the matter, but now the DOJ has imposed a new round of restrictions, city officials say. Among other things, the new stipulations include requiring local police to inform immigration officials about immigrants in custody who have questionable legal status and allowing them to access the prisoners for questioning.
"We have already won this battle in court, and yet the Attorney General continues to disregard numerous federal court rulings that have repeatedly said he does not have the authority to add these requirements to a grant program created by Congress," Ed Siskel, the city's attorney, said in a prepared statement. "He cannot unilaterally impose new certifications and offer vague references to federal laws as a justification for unlawful actions."
Last year, the city sued over similar conditions tied to the grants that also included an attempt to force local governments to share information on immigrants and giving Homeland Security officials access to local jails and other police facilities.
Over the summer U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, based in Chicago, agreed with the city, granting a permanent injunction against the conditions the Justice Department wanted.
The city has an ordinance on the books that blocks federal immigration officials' access to people in Chicago police custody, except when they're wanted on a criminal warrant or have a serious criminal conviction. Police also cannot allow ICE agents to use their facilities for investigations, and on-duty officers are not allowed to respond to ICE inquiries or communicate with ICE officials about a person's custody status or release.
The city says Trump's justice department has withheld $5 million in federal grant money from last year, including $3 million to cover police officer salaries. And unlike other cities, officials here say, Chicago has yet to receive an award letter for 2018. The funding in question is a small fraction of the police department's $1.5 billion budget.
Officials at the justice department did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
Trump and Emanuel have been at odds over the president repeatedly bringing up Chicago and its policing efforts to curb gun violence.
Just this week, Trump told an audience at the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Florida that Chicago should embrace stop-and-frisk police tactics and that he was sending justice department officials to the city to "help straighten out the terrible shooting wave."
Emanuel countered that Trump was pushing "failed policies" but that the city would accept extra help with policing in the form of agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI.
The mayor, who's leaving office next year, has fought Trump on immigration and pushed back on the president's criticism of his police department. Taking the DOJ to court is a smart move politically in a Democratic city with a large immigrant population.