A federal judge today ruled in favor of the City of Chicago stopping Attorney General Jeff Sessions from withholding federal grants for public safety programs because it has declared itself a Sanctuary City – and made his ruling effective nationwide.
Chicago officials led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel argued that penalizing cities for protecting undocumented immigrants was unlawful and unconstitutional and that Sessions did not have the authority to block federal grant programs over the issue.
The cities and states who opposed Sessions are concerned if he gets away with yanking funding in this instance, he will use that as a tool to get even more power and affect all kinds of other federal grants.
In his 41-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber said he was imposing his ruling immediately across the country because there was a real danger that a community’s relationship with its immigrants could be damaged without quick action.
“The harm to the city’s relationship with the immigrant community if it should accede to the conditions is irreparable,” ruled Leinenweber.
“Once such trust is lost,” added Leinenweber, “it cannot be repaired through an award of money damages, making it the type of harm that is especially hard to rectify.”
This is a major setback for the Trump administration which has made its anti-immigrant and undocumented alien efforts a cornerstone of its America First agenda.
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) September 15, 2017
It is also a big win for Emanuel, who served as President Obama’s Chief of Staff before leaving to run for office in Chicago.
“Emanuel has been declaring himself a protector of immigrants in the U.S. illegally since before Trump was sworn in,” reports the Chicago Tribune, adding that immediately after Trump was elected he promised to “stand up for Chicago’s ‘values and principles’ as it relates to inclusion.”
Emanuel has also been building his profile as a national leader of a movement by big-city mayor’s who are taking steps to oppose Trump’s anti-immigration policies. His administration has passed laws and been vocal about keeping Chicago a city which will continue to welcome immigrants.
“He can point to a signature moment in the movement,” reports the Chicago Tribune.
Emanuel’s victory will also play well to the city’s Democrats and of course to the large Latino community in the city.
This is not just a victory for Chicago. This is a win for cities across the US that supported our lawsuit vs Trump DOJ defending our values. pic.twitter.com/H6pN36JsuD
— Archive: Mayor Rahm Emanuel (@MayorRahm) September 15, 2017
“Sanctuary Cities” is a term that refers to local governments that limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials. There are now more than 300 such cities, as well as states including California, which are also offering sanctuary.
In July, Sessions announced a federal crackdown, demanding among other things that cities notify immigration authorities ICE 48 hours in advance of releasing anyone in a jail who they suspect is an illegal alien. Sessions also demanded the cities then allow ICE or other federal agents free access to the jails to arrest those proven to be illegal.
Cities including Chicago have argued immigration is a federal responsibility and they should not be forced to assist in identifying or rounding up illegal aliens.
Efforts in some cities and states to go after illegal immigrants – including Texas and Arizona – have survived court tests; while in other cases the courts have ruled the federal government can’t punish Sanctuary Cities. That has been the ruling in other recent cases.
Besides its expected appeals all the way to the Supreme Court, the federal government has the power to change the rules, noted Leinenweber: they can get Congress to pass laws that give them the specific authority that Sessions is demanding.
Leinenweber, who is 80-years-old, is no wild-eyed radical or even a Democrat- he was appointed to the bench for life by President Ronald Reagan after serving in the Illinois House of Representatives as a Republican.
At a press conference after the ruling, Emanuel called the judge’s decision “a clear statement… that the Trump administration is wrong.”
Emanuel argues that Sessions efforts to deny federal grants used for public safety programs would deny communities their ability to keep their residents safe and drive a wedge between the police and the people who would have to live in fear of any interaction with an officer which might lead to their deportation.
This is another embarrassment for Sessions, who last month took the lead on declaring an end to the DACA program which protects young “DREAMERs”, brought to the U.S. as children by illegal immigrants, who have otherwise been good citizens.
While Trump initially supported the end of DACA (including multiple campaign promises to end the program), the president has since made conflicting statements and has urged Congress to restore it, adding if they did not act he would personally review it at a later date.
What this also shows is how important it is that the federal system select and approve judges who will stand by the law and protect all Americans. Trump is currently in the process of filling over a hundred vacancies on the courts, many created because Republicans would not approve judicial candidates proposed by President Obama.
In years to come, it will be those new appointees making the rulings that will impact lives and we can only hope they will act as wisely as Judge Leinenweber has in this case.