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Durbin Slams Sessions For Threatening Funds To Sanctuary Cities

CHICAGO (CBS) -- U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin had a tense exchange with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Capitol Hill, over the Trump administration's threats to strip federal grants from so-called "sanctuary cities" like Chicago.

Sessions repeatedly has said cities that do not actively assist federal immigration enforcement efforts will not be allowed to receive law enforcement grants.

As the attorney general was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Durbin said pulling those grants would hamper efforts to reduce gun violence in Chicago. He also noted the Chicago Police Department has said "undocumented immigrants are not driving violence in Chicago."

The senator said the money Chicago receives from federal law enforcement grants has been used to fund ShotSpotter sensors, which help police immediately detect gunfire, and more quickly respond to shootings.

"You want to cut back these funds, because you want the city of Chicago to play the role of immigration police on federal civil laws. Mr. attorney general, you're not helping us solve the murder problem in the city of Chicago by taking away these federal funds," Durbin said.

Sessions said he agreed that gun violence has been "a cloud over the city," and that strong community policing "is absolutely essential," but he also demanded Chicago help deport undocumented immigrants who commit violent crimes.

"I think the politicians cannot say that if you remove a violent criminal from America that's illegally in the country, and he's arrested by the Chicago police, and put in the Chicago jail, that once they're released, they shouldn't be turned over to the federal ICE officers so they can be removed from the country. They were here illegally to begin with, much less commit another crime," he said. "How does that make the city of Chicago safer when you don't remove criminals who are easily in the country."

Durbin slammed Sessions for beginning his testimony by "throwing a bouquet" to local police, and lament the city's murder rate, but threaten to cut off law enforcement funds.

Sessions noted he has increased the number of ATF agents assisting the Chicago Police Department with gun crimes.

When Durbin seemed to scoff at the number of additional ATF agents in Chicago – 12 – which the attorney general claimed is larger than any other city.

"The United States government can't take over law enforcement for the city of Chicago. We're not doing it for New York, we're not doing it for a lot of other places," he said.

"Nor can the city of Chicago take over immigration," Durbin shot back.

Sessions said he would continue to work with Durbin and city officials to address gun violence in Chicago, but stood by his demand that Chicago take an active role in enforcing immigration laws.

"I do not want to not have grants go to Chicago, but we need their support. When somebody's 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 said. "That's not happening, and we've got to work through it some way."

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