CHICAGO – Attorneys for Chicago on Monday asked a federal judge for a nationwide halt to Trump administration requirements that cities enforce tough immigration laws in order to receive some federal grants, staking out a leadership role for the nation's third largest city in the fight over so-called sanctuary cities.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proclaimed the city a sanctuary for immigrants in the country illegally and has refused to allow immigration police access to city jails without a warrant. Last month Chicago sued the Trump administration over the new rules.
During a court hearing Monday, attorneys argued over whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions has the authority to bar Chicago from receiving federal grants to buy police equipment if it refuses to share information about people in custody who may be in the country illegally.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber did not rule Monday on the city's request for a "nationwide injunction" and did not say when he might decide. At stake is Chicago's request for $2.2 million in federal funds — $1.5 million for the city and the rest for Cook County and 10 other suburbs.
Chicago is leading the charge for cities and counties across the country. More than 30 jurisdictions filed court briefs supporting Chicago's suit, and have up to $35 million in grants at stake. At least seven cities and counties, including Seattle and San Francisco, as well as the state of California, are refusing to cooperate with the new federal rules.
Sessions wants local authorities to give "where practicable" 48 hours-notice before releasing from custody anyone federal agents suspect of being in the United States illegally, and require the agents access to local jails.
The court arguments boiled down to whether Sessions has the authority to withhold the grant money/
"Congress mandated that the Attorney General SHALL allocate (the funds); It does not give him the authority not to do this," attorney for Chicago Ronald Safer said.
Safer argued that tying the grant money to an agreement to comply would damage the relationship between the immigrant community and a police department that relies on the public to solve crimes.
He also told the judge that if he rules in favor of the Trump administration, it would set a dangerous precedent that could ultimately give the administration the power to tie funds to the city's willingness to send police officers to the Mexican border to help build the wall Trump wants to build.
But Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division, said Sessions is well within his rights to place special conditions on such grant money, adding that cities already had to meet more than 50 special conditions, including compliance with civil rights laws to receive grants in 2016.
"The attorney general has final authority on all grants issued by the department," he said. When Chicago agreed, for example, to take federal funds for body armor for police officers it accepted the condition that officers wear the body armor, Readler said.
Readler said Chicago has the option to refuse to comply with the new immigration regulations and fund the initiatives itself.
Chicago has received the public safety grants since 2005, using the $33 million to purchase police vehicles and equipment. The city received $2.3 million last year. The city hasn't been denied the money in the past.
City law department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the new rules do not apply to grants already received. He also said it is unclear when the city might receive the grant money that Sessions has threatened to withhold. Typically, the city applies for the money by early June and receives the money by the end of September. But this year, the city applied Aug. 31 after the deadline was pushed back to Sept. 5.
In April, a federal judge dealt the Trump administration a partial setback, suspended the rules only for San Francisco and Santa Clara County, California.