Donald Trump’s misguided assault on sanctuary cities — Chicago included

From the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune 

“If you’re in this country and you’re a criminal — if you’re a drug dealer, if you’re a murderer — then you should be deported from the United States of America.”

No, that’s not President-elect Donald Trump talking. It’s U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago, who has advocated longer and louder than anyone on behalf of immigrant communities. His point? Chicago and other so-called “sanctuary cities” are not in the business of sheltering the people Trump calls “bad hombres.” The goal is to protect everyone else.

Trump says as many as 3 million criminal immigrants are in the U.S. without permission. He has promised to deport them, and he’s prepared to play hardball to secure the cooperation of local police departments. He’s threatened to block federal funding to governments with sanctuary policies, which shield immigrants who are in the country without permission but are otherwise law-abiding from being deported. That includes Chicago, Cook County and dozens of other jurisdictions around the country.

Since Trump’s election, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has joined the mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and others in reaffirming that their police officers won’t become de facto immigration officers.

It could be a costly impasse. Chicago got more than $1 billion in federal funding this year for all sorts of programs — transportation, health care, education, law enforcement and others. Next year, it’s counting on $1.3 billion.

Many of Chicago’s immigrants who are in the U.S. without legal permission express concern for the future following president-elect Donald Trump’s pledge this week to immediately deport as many as 3 million people. (Chicago Tribune)

Trump couldn’t shut off the funding without backing from Congress, and Emanuel brushed off the threat, saying he doubts Trump is serious about targeting “every major city in the United States.” U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Chicago, said he hopes Trump won’t risk alienating lawmakers who represent those cities.

We wouldn’t place any bets on what Trump will or won’t do, but lawmakers are likely to think twice. Last year, House grandstanders passed a bill to cut off federal law enforcement grants to sanctuary cities, but the Senate wisely let it die.

Police in sanctuary cities typically won’t detain people based on immigration status if they would otherwise qualify for release. A driver who’s here illegally doesn’t risk being deported over a speeding ticket. An immigrant arrested on suspicion of shoplifting can be released on bail pending a court date. The reasoning: Public safety suffers when local police are viewed as immigration agents. Crime victims or witnesses are less likely to cooperate if they fear they’ll be deported. Sanctuary policies also spare local taxpayers the cost of holding people until the feds get around to deporting them.

In Chicago, an executive order signed by Mayor Harold Washington in 1985 prohibited city employees, including police, from asking about immigration status when providing services. A 2012 ordinance sponsored by Emanuel allows police to cooperate with federal immigration agents only if the person in custody has been convicted of a serious crime or is the subject of a criminal warrant.

Emanuel has sought to reassure immigrants that “you are safe in Chicago, you are secure in Chicago and you are supported in Chicago.” On Wednesday, dozens of aldermen signed on to a resolution that reaffirms the city’s ordinance. It rejects the idea of a religious litmus test for immigrants or the creation of a government national registry based on religion or ethnicity. And it says Chicago will resist “any attempt by the president-elect to hold federal funding to the nation’s economic centers ransom to an inhumane immigration agenda.”

We hope Trump’s threat is an empty one. There are 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. without permission. Most of them are leading peaceful, productive lives. Study after study shows they are less likely to commit crimes than the population at large. Our communities are safer when they are able to interact freely with police.