What Is the Constituency for Criminal Aliens?

By Andrew R. Arthur on August 10, 2017

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is taking concrete steps to address the violence that is racking American cities. For reasons that are not entirely clear, however, some of those cities are pushing back on DOJ's rules in order to protect their own alien criminals.

On July 25, 2017, DOJ posted its solicitation for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Programs (JAG). As its press release stated:

Recipients for FY 2017 will be notified of new conditions of their grants that will increase information sharing between federal, state, and local law enforcement, ensuring that federal immigration authorities have the information they need to enforce immigration laws and keep our communities safe.

As the National Criminal Justice Association explains:

The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) Program (42 U.S.C. § 3751(a)) is the primary provider of federal criminal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions. Administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the Byrne JAG Program supports the federal government's crucial role in spurring innovation, as well as testing and replicating evidence-based practices nationwide.

Byrne JAG funds may be used for state and local initiatives, technical assistance, strategic planning, research and evaluation (including forensics), data collection, training, personnel, equipment, forensic laboratories, supplies, contractual support, and criminal justice information systems that will improve or enhance the following program areas:

  • Law enforcement programs;
  • Prosecution and court programs, including indigent defense;
  • Prevention and education programs;
  • Corrections, community corrections and reentry programs;
  • Drug treatment and enforcement programs;
  • Planning, evaluation, and technology improvement programs;
  • Crime victim and witness programs (other than compensation); and
  • Mental health programs and services (added FY 17).

Because Byrne JAG is flexible, states and local communities are able to use the funding to address needs and fill gaps across the entire criminal justice system. This is a hallmark of the Byrne JAG program and one that is vitally important.

Specifically, JAG recipients for 2017 were told that they would be required to:

  • Certify compliance with section 1373, a federal statute applicable to state and local governments that generally bars restrictions on communications between state and local agencies and officials at the Department of Homeland Security;
  • Permit personnel of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") to access any detention facility in order to meet with an alien and inquire as to his or her right to be or remain in the United States; and
  • Provide at least 48 hours advance notice to DHS regarding the scheduled release date and time of an alien in the jurisdiction's custody when DHS requests such notice in order to take custody of the alien.

On Monday, August 7, 2017, officials from the City of Chicago filed a lawsuit against the requirements that DOJ placed on JAG. According to the Washington Post: "Chicago received $2.3 million last year through the grant program, funds that in the past the city has used to purchase SWAT equipment, police vehicles, radios and stun guns." The paper quotes Mayor Rahm Emanuel as stating:

Chicago will not be blackmailed into changing our values, and we are and will remain a welcoming City. ... The federal government should be working with cities to provide necessary resources to improve public safety, not concocting new schemes to reduce our crime fighting resources.

DOJ pushed back, with department spokesman Devin O'Malley responding:

In 2016, more Chicagoans were murdered than in New York City and Los Angeles combined. ... So it's especially tragic that the mayor is less concerned with that staggering figure than he is spending time and taxpayer money protecting criminal aliens and putting Chicago's law enforcement at greater risk.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was even more straightforward in his condemnation of Chicago's stance, stating:

To a degree perhaps unsurpassed by any other jurisdiction, the political leadership of Chicago has chosen deliberately and intentionally to adopt a policy that obstructs this country's lawful immigration system. They have demonstrated an open hostility to enforcing laws designed to protect law enforcement — Federal, state, and local — and reduce crime, and instead have adopted an official policy of protecting criminal aliens who prey on their own residents. This is astounding given the unprecedented violent crime surge in Chicago, with the number of murders in 2016 surpassing both New York and Los Angeles combined. The city's leaders cannot follow some laws and ignore others and reasonably expect this horrific situation to improve.

As O'Malley and Sessions noted, Chicago is a city that is in the grip of a criminal crisis. According to DNAInfo.com, there have been 419 murders in Chicago thus far in 2017. In June 2017 alone, there were 2,517 violent crimes and 7,670 property crimes. In fact, in August 2016, the BBC published an article titled: "Violence in Chicago - in five shocking stats".

The question becomes, then, who is the constituency for Mayor Emanuel's position? Every city wants to be a "welcoming city", but most set limits on whom they will welcome. In fact, criminals are generally so "unwelcome" that we put certain classes of them in detention or confinement — the exact population of residents that DOJ wants access to. SWAT equipment and stun guns are, by definition, unwelcoming, yet Chicago has used JAG funds to purchase them.

There must, however, be some political advantage in this move. Rahm Emanuel did not earn the nickname "the Godfather" for nothing. He is a savvy politician who quickly rose to leadership positions in the House, before leaving to become President Obama's chief of staff. Whether those political advantages are purely local, or more national in scope, are unclear, and Emanuel is up for reelection (should he choose to run) in 2019.

Most likely, Emanuel is taking advantage of the public's lack of understanding about the parameters of DOJ's JAG requirements. Police are unlikely to report the immigration status of crime victims to DHS, because they generally rely on the testimony of those victims to prove their cases. Rather, as I have noted previously, local officials have every reason to assist alien victims of crime who do not have status. And the remaining two requirements set forth by DOJ apply only to aliens who have been at least detained as criminal suspects.

Mayor Emanuel famously stated "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." This oft-quoted epigram often leaves out his elaboration, which related to the 2008 financial crisis: "Things that we had postponed for too long, that were long-term, are now immediate and must be dealt with. This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before." If Mayor Emanuel believes that the criminal crisis in Chicago now gives him the opportunity to shelter more criminals, he should reconsider.