Chicago Says Spicer Can't Blame Shooting Epidemic on Immigrants

  • Trump plans to strip federal funding from ‘sanctuary cities’
  • City denies suggestion undocumented immigrants are cause

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer conducts the daily press briefing at the White House on Friday, March 31.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s administration suggested Friday that the spike in Chicago’s gun violence can be linked to a familiar target: undocumented immigrants.

That was news to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose office said the administration’s attempt to link gun violence to immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally isn’t backed by crime data.

"If they cared as much about public safety as they claim, they would stop playing politics with the issue and their support for public safety wouldn’t come with strings attached," said Adam Collins, a spokesman for Emanuel.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made the claim at a Friday press briefing, after being asked about Trump’s threat to withhold federal funding from Chicago and other so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to aid federal immigration agents in their hunt for people in the U.S. without papers. Chicago, where murders surged in 2016 to their highest level in two decades, gets $12 million a year in federal aid for local police.

"Would President Trump cut off those funds due to Chicago’s sanctuary-city status, even though it would greatly hamper the city’s fight against street violence - something the president has repeatedly said troubles him deeply?" Derrick Blakley, a Chicago television reporter, asked Spicer via video link.

Delinking Issues

"I think to suggest that somehow they’re not inextricably linked is a failure to fully appreciate the scenario,” Spicer said. "If a shooter or killer is here illegally and is in this country, then I think that, again respectfully, you’re delinking the two issues."

Trump has repeatedly cited Chicago’s gun violence as evidence of rampant urban problems, one that may require federal intervention. Emanuel, who was once chief of staff to former President Barack Obama, has asked Trump for federal assistance in dealing with the problem.

Karen Sheley, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said there is no link between the rise in gun violence and undocumented immigrants.

"That is just either a stunningly ignorant statement or an outrageous lie," Sheley said in a phone interview.

San Francisco and Seattle are among a handful of municipalities that have filed pre-emptive lawsuits against Trump to protect their federal funding, though Chicago, the third-biggest U.S. city, hasn’t sued. Officials in sanctuary cities have said cooperating with federal immigration agents has a negative impact on public safety by eroding trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement.

The president, eager to follow through on a campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration, made the threat against sanctuary cities in a Jan. 25 executive order

“The president finds it unacceptable that some localities and counties and potentially some states have prioritized a political agenda over the safety of their people by flouting our nation’s immigration laws," Spicer said Friday. "The failure to follow federal law can have tragic consequences for all of our citizens in all of our country."

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think-tank that supports Trump’s immigration policies, cast doubt on a strong link between between Chicago’s gun violence and undocumented immigrants.

"I’d suspect that some of the gun violence may indeed be due to illegal-alien gangs, but most is not," Krikorian said in an email. "But Chicago can’t argue with a straight face that it desperately needs the law enforcement funds, but that it won’t cooperate with federal law enforcement in order to get those funds."

— With assistance by Eric Englert

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