WASHINGTON, DC - Sen. Dick Durbin (D) and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sparred Wednesday over the issue of Chicago's lack of cooperation in enforcing federal immigration law and the threatened withholding of federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants because of it.
Durbin says the grants have provided Cook County and Chicago with nearly $60 million since 2009, grants that are now at risk, Sessions says, because of the city's lack of cooperation with federal immigration officials, when it comes to detaining individuals already in police custody, who are in the United States illegally.
"AG Sessions is forcing Chicago's local law enforcement to choose between critical funding for policing or becoming a federal deportation force," Durbin tweeted immediately before a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
During a testy exchange with Durbin, however, Sessions responded that the city can do both as other cities do now. "I think the politicians cannot say that, if you remove a violent criminal from America, that's illegally in the country, and he's arrested by Chicago Police and put in (the) Chicago jail, so that once they're released, they should not be turned over to the federal ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers so they can be they can be removed the country ... how does that make the City of Chicago safer?"
Chicago considers itself a so-called 'sanctuary city' and is one of four cities that have been singled out recently, by the Justice Department, for non-cooperation with federal immigration officials. The Justice Department has sent a letter to city officials, warning them that, if they do not cooperate, the city will lose access those federal crime fighting grants.
Sen. Durbin is alarmed by the implications of that, especially for a city which he notes has seen over 500 killed and more than 3,000 wounded so far in 2017 alone. "I’ve said it before and I will say it again," Durbin said in a statement, "undocumented immigrants are not driving violence in Chicago and that’s why I want our officers focused on community policing and not trying to be the immigration police."
Durbin adds Chicago had planned to use the federal money to purchase 'ShotSpotter' systems to help better trace incidents of gunfire within the city immediately. Rockford is in the process of acquiring a similar system.
Sessions told Durbin he's added more federal ATF agents to the Chicago office to help the city deal with gun crime issues.
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