City gets police grant funds — without stipulations

By Kevin Beese Staff reporter

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Chicago and other cities will continue to get access to federal grant money without having to help in federal immigration enforcement.

The ruling of a federal judge last week stopped new conditions from being put on Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant funds from President Donald Trump’s administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had said that in order to receive Byrne funds, which are used for public safety equipment, recipient cities had to inform federal law enforcement when they were releasing undocumented immigrants from custody.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber on Friday issued a national preliminary injunction stopping the stipulations tied to the grant funding.

“Progress is never easy, but it is always worth fighting for. In Chicago, we will always fight for our values and the rights of our residents,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.

He said the ruling means essential resources for public safety in Chicago and across the county “cannot come with unlawful strings” attached from Trump’s Justice Department.

“This is not just a victory for the city of Chicago, but a win for cities, counties and states across America,” Emanuel said.

In his ruling, Leinenweber agreed with the city that the federal government has no authority to require Chicago to provide 48 hours advanced notice before releasing a suspected undocumented immigrant from custody.  He also said the federal government has no right to expect unlimited access to city lockups to interrogate suspected undocumented immigrants as a condition of the grant funds.

City attorneys had argued that the conditions are invalid and unconstitutional. The city also contended that trust between immigrant communities and local governments would be irreparably harmed without the preliminary injunction and that a nationwide injunction was necessary to protect all grant applicants from the conditions being placed on the grant.

Leinenweber agreed with that assessment.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

“The harm to the city’s relationship with the immigrant community if it should accede to the conditions is irreparable,” Leinenweber wrote in his opinion. “Once such trust is lost, it cannot be repaired through an award of money damages.”

The federal judge said without the injunction, the city would either have to forgo Byrne funds it had earmarked for technology that detects when and where gunshots are fired or accept the conditions on the funds “and suffer the collapse of trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities that is essential to ferreting out crime.”

Chicago has received Byrne funds since 2005, including $2.3 million last year. The city has used Byrne funds over the years for public safety items, including SWAT equipment, police vehicles, radios and Tasers. On Aug. 31, the Chicago Police Department submitted its application for fiscal year 2017 Byrne grant funds, but made it clear that the city would not agree to the new conditions attached to the federal grant. The grant funding would allow CPD to add 20.3 miles to the ShotSpotter network in police districts 3 and 4, two districts experiencing higher than average rates of gang and gun-related crime.

“This police department is only as strong as the community’s belief in us,” said Acting Police Superintendent Kevin Navarro. “Every single day, CPD is building that trust through community policing and forging meaningful relationships with residents in every neighborhood. Regardless of who you are or where you are from, you will always have a right to be safe in Chicago.”

The city’s legal team was thrilled with the judge’s decision to issue the injunction.

“We are very pleased that the judge agreed that the Department of Justice does not have the authority to add requirements to a grant program that was created by Congress and has operated for many years under the established condition,” said city corporation counsel Ed Siskel. “We took this action to stand up for Chicago’s values and to ensure we did not lose important public safety grants by refusing to cooperate with these new unlawful conditions. This ruling makes clear that the attorney general does not have the authority to unilaterally impose new requirements without approval from Congress.”

The city is supported in its legal efforts on the issue by two outside law firms, Riley Safer and Wilmer Hale, both of which are providing their services pro bono.



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