The city of Chicago has plenty of problems. Its latest? The Justice Department plans to deny it law-enforcement grants over its government’s refusal to enforce federal immigration law. In response, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration.
Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has taken vigorous steps to punish so-called sanctuary cities. These are jurisdictions across the country, including Chicago, that have instituted a formal policy of protecting illegal immigrants — including those convicted of violent crimes — from federal law-enforcement agents.
The Justice Department’s new compliance requirements are specifically related to the money doled out by its Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program — Byrne-JAG grants, for short — which funds miscellaneous spending for state and local law-enforcement agencies. States can apply for these funds each year, but they must agree to follow the compliance requirements attached to the program.
“With one hand, these cities accept federal money for the costs of incarcerating criminal illegal aliens, for example,” Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, told National Review last fall. “But then with the other hand, they unlock the door and let those criminal aliens out of the jail cells.”
Chicago’s suit argues that the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius precludes the Justice Department from tying federal funding to law enforcement in this way, but the Court’s 1987 ruling in South Dakota v. Dole paints a different picture. In it, the Court upheld the constitutionality of a statute that withheld federal funds from states that did not raise the drinking age to conform with federal law. Sessions is using a similar strategy: Allow cities to declare themselves sanctuaries, but use the common tactic of financial coercion to pressure them into changing their minds.
The city government intends to use $3.2 million in Byrne-JAG grants to purchase a fleet of new police vehicles. “Chicago will not be blackmailed into changing our values, and we are and will remain a welcoming city,” Emanuel said. “The federal government should be working with cities to provide necessary resources to improve public safety, not concocting new schemes to reduce our crime-fighting resources.”
But Sessions has argued that Chicago — along with other sanctuary jurisdictions — is not, in fact, using the crime-fighting resources that are being provided to it by the federal government. The city may need new police vehicles, but the city’s law enforcement cannot accept money for a task it is unwilling to perform. In fact, Chicago remains one of the nation’s top violators of federal law.
Last year, Texas Republican John Culberson, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, insisted that the U.S. inspector general conduct a survey of all the country’s sanctuary jurisdictions. The final report identified the city of Chicago and Cook County, where it is located, as two of the top-ten worst violators of federal immigration law, most notably because they restrict or in some cases prohibit local cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
“Their days of taking federal money are over. If you want federal money, follow federal law,” Culberson told National Review at the time. “It’s simple. This is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s choice. This is Bill de Blasio’s choice.”
With Sessions installed at the Justice Department, Culberson may get his wish. This lawsuit shows that Emanuel remains intent upon both flagrantly ignoring federal law and continuing to collect federal cash. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
— Alexandra DeSanctis is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.