Attorney General Jeff Sessions lashed out at Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday, delivering an unusually caustic reaction to a new lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s plans to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities.
Emanuel announced the filing of the suit earlier in the day, complaining about a new Justice Department policy attempting to cut off grants to police departments that decline to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
Sessions’ barbed reply argued that record numbers of murders in Chicago in recent years were attributable at least in part to Emanuel’s decision to stick with a sanctuary policy that encourages police to ignore the immigration status of those they encounter.
"No amount of federal taxpayer dollars will help a city that refuses to help its own residents," Sessions said. "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."
The attorney general’s combative statement, which accused Chicago officials of adopting "an official policy of protecting criminal aliens," is likely to be well received by President Donald Trump. He has regularly blasted Chicago over crime, accusing it of being too lax in its response to the surge in violence there.
The statement comes amid what appears to be a concerted effort by Sessions to curry favor with Trump after the president made a series of comments last month expressing dissatisfaction with Sessions and said he regretted picking him as attorney general.
"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," Sessions said. "The city’s leaders cannot follow some laws and ignore others and reasonably expect this horrific situation to improve."
“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 added. "So it’s this simple: Comply with the law or forgo taxpayer dollars."
However, the new lawsuit argues it’s the Justice Department that isn’t complying with the law. No law obliges local governments to actively assist immigration officers or to notify them when illegal immigrants are released from jail.
The Trump administration is trying to add such requirements to certain law-enforcement grants issued in the future, but Chicago’s suit contends that Justice Department officials lack the authority to add anti-sanctuary-city requirements beyond a single provision barring grant recipients from policies that punish officers for contacting federal officials about a suspected undocumented immigrant.
Other cities are considering similar lawsuits. Indeed, localities in California and Massachusetts have filed legal challenges to an early Trump executive order that many saw as threatening a broad crackdown on sanctuary cities. Emanuel and many law enforcement leaders argue that the policies benefit public safety by encouraging undocumented immigrants to cooperate and communicate with police.
“Chicago is a welcoming city and always will be, and we will not be blackmailed by President Trump’s Justice Department," Emanuel said as he announced the suit. "Forcing us to choose between our values and our police department’s philosophy of community policing is a false choice, and it is a choice that would ultimately undermines our public safety agenda."