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Community Groups Blast Rahm's DOJ Lawsuit As A Political Misdirection From Real Immigration Reform

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 9, 2017 7:30PM

Getty Images / Photo: Scott Olson

The day after Mayor Rahm Emanuel formally announced the city's lawsuit against the Department of Justice, a coalition of immigrant-rights and community organizations slammed the move as little more than political theatre, and a misdirection technique from Emanuel's lack of progress on strengthening support for undocumented immigrants via bolstering the city's Welcoming City Ordinance.

The Chicago Immigration Working Group—a coalition of 14 local activist groups—blasted the mayor for not making meaningful progress in closing "discriminatory" carve-outs in the Welcoming City ordinance, while at the same time accusing Rahm of milking the lawsuit as a way to improve his image.

The Chicago's sanctuary-city policy dictates that local police not detain suspects beyond their release time in order to turn them over to federal immigration agents. But several major loopholes exist, including for individuals in the city's gang database, people with an outstanding criminal warrant and individuals with previous felony convictions. Groups like CIWG (along with some influential aldermen) have been trying to change that since last year; but they argue that Rahm's administration has not been receptive, even amidst his DOJ/Trump pushback and litigation.

CIWG said in a statement on Wednesday:

"While the Chicago Immigration Working Group supports efforts to push back against the Trump Administration’s bullying and overreach of federal power, it is clear that the primary purpose of the lawsuit filed by the City of Chicago is not to defend the rights of undocumented Chicagoans but to preserve federal funding for the Chicago Police Department and bolster Mayor Emanuel’s national image as a champion of immigrants."

The group also links to a Fran Spielman story in the Sun-Times, which recounts Emanuel emailing high-profile news folk about his support of immigration, "to shore up a national media image" after he was left toxic in the wake of the Laquan McDonald scandal.

Aside from the image angle, CIWG argues that the Emanuel administration is now leaning on its DOJ litigation "as a tactic to end negotiations with community members" about closing the Welcoming City loopholes. They add in the statement:

"In an email to community organizations inquiring about the lawsuit and the City’s next steps, Seemi Choudry, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of New Americans — the office tasked with relating to the immigrant community — noted, 'As for scheduling a meeting to discuss the Welcoming City Ordinance, we are not in a position to discuss amendments to the ordinance as we are now in litigation with the federal government.'"

A measure that would strengthen the ordinance was introduced in February and has 29 co-sponsors, but it has yet to proceeded to the full City Council.

The city is suing the Department of Justice over its threats to withhold Byrne Justice Assistance Grants from sanctuary cities, such as Chicago. The city is expected to receive a relatively paltry (in the overall budget picture) $3.2 million in those grants, which mostly go toward purchasing new police vehicles. Emanuel argues that even though the sum of funds is comparatively minor, the precedent would be chilling.

But community groups continue to demand more. "If the City of Chicago is truly serious about ensuring public safety and resisting the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, then it must take action to protect all individuals’ constitutional rights and amend the Welcoming City Ordinance to protect all Chicagoans without exceptions," CIWG added.