Sessions tangles with Durbin over Chicago violence

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sparred with Sen. Dick Durbin Wednesday over Chicago’s murder rate -- and the prospect of federal funding potentially being cut amid the city’s resistance to the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Sessions testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on a slew of issues, including law enforcement and immigration policy. Well before the hearing, Sessions has repeatedly threatened to cut federal funding for so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ that do not cooperate with federal immigration agents.

Durbin, D-Ill., pressed Sessions over his desire to “cut burn grant funds,” which he suggested would “hamper community policing and undermine work” to cut the murder rate in Chicago.

“You’re not helping us solve the murder problem in the city of Chicago by taking away these federal funds,” Durbin said, noting that 3,000 people have been injured by guns, and over 500 have been killed in the past year in Chicago. “The superintendent said your pursuit of undocumented immigrants has little or nothing to do with gun violence in Chicago.”

Sessions responded that the “murder rate is a cloud over the city,” and agreed that community policing was “absolutely essential” to the Chicago Police Department, but pushed back on Durbin’s claim that the murder rate has nothing to do with illegal immigrants.

“I think politicians cannot say if you remove a violent criminal from America, if he is arrested and put in a Chicago jail, that once they’re out, they shouldn’t be turned over to federal ICE officers so they can be removed from the country—they were here illegally to begin with, much less committed a crime,” Sessions said.

He added: “How does that make the city of Chicago safer when you don’t remove criminals who are illegally in this country?”

Durbin fired back, slamming Sessions on his opening statement and his alleged double-edged praise of law enforcement.

“You can’t give an opening statement throwing a bouquet to local police and then ignore what the superintendent of police in Chicago tells you has nothing to do with gun violence,” Durbin said. “You want to cut off federal funds to that city and come here and criticize the murder rate and have it both ways.”

Sessions countered that he had increased the number of “ATF agents by 12,” noting that was “a large number” and “more than any other city.”

“The United States government cannot take over law enforcement for the city of Chicago,” Sessions said. “We’re not doing it for New York, not doing it for a lot of other places.”

Durbin interrupted, “Nor can the city of Chicago take over immigration.”

Sessions closed the back and forth, promising the Justice Department would “continue to work” with Chicago.

“I do not want to not have grants go to Chicago, but we need their support,” Sessions said. “When somebody is arrested in the jail that’s due to be deported, we just simply ask that they call us so we can come by and pick them up if they need to be removed.”

Sessions added: “That’s not happening and we’ve got to work through it in some way.”