News & Politics

Rahm Emanuel: Chicago's Always Been a Sanctuary City; Didn't Enforce Fugitive Slave Act

During a recent appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel bragged about Chicago being a sanctuary city. Emanuel explained to the talk show host that the roots of Chicago’s policy go all the way back to when the city refused to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

After mentioning that Chicago is a sanctuary city, Colbert asked, “Okay. How does that work? And I can understand the enthusiasm for that idea and I am just curious, how is that different than say John C. Calhoun declaring nullification of federal law? How is that not a sort of a constitutional crisis?”

A fair point, and a fair question. In fact, it’s a question that all supporters of sanctuary cities should contemplate. Rahm Emanuel, however, chose to deflect. “First of all, I call it a welcoming city, not a sanctuary city,” Emanuel responded. “And we welcome immigrants from around the world. There are 140 languages spoken in the Chicago public schools. A hundred years ago my grandfather came to Chicago 13 years old by himself, Chicago welcomed him, and his grandson now is the mayor. Chicago, the United States, is the greatest city and the greatest country in the world.  Bear none! That an immigrant’s grandson can be the mayor. And here is the other thing. A little history of Chicago. The only city not to participate in the Fugitive Slave Act, of returning slaves back to the South, the city of Chicago. So, being a sanctuary city is in our history.”

Setting aside the fact that non-sanctuary cities also welcome immigrants with open arms (they just prefer that their future citizens be law-aiding), Emanuel didn’t answer Colbert’s question. A fact that didn’t escape Colbert’s notice.

“That doesn’t necessarily answer my question…. I’m just curious how it doesn’t violate federal law for you to do this,” Colbert pushed back.

Finally answering Colbert’s initial question, Mayor Emanuel responded, “Because the police department in the city of Chicago is not supposed to be enforcing the immigration laws of the United States government, that’s what the federal government is for,” he said. “That is not what we’re going to do it. And here is the other thing. The bigger piece of this is we are building relationships between the police department and communities. I’m not driving a wedge. That is what Donald Trump wants, is a wedge between — on the philosophy of community policing. It’s absolutely antithetical to everything we are trying to do, and actually, which is why police chiefs around the county, big cities, small cities, medium sized cities, all think that what the Justice Department, specifically under Donald Trump, is driving a wedge and a difference between communities and the police departments when we’re trying to actually build that trust. It is absolutely antithetical to community policing.”

Rahm Emanuel’s comparison of current immigration policy to slavery would be laughable if it weren’t so insulting to those who suffered under slavery. Chattel slavery (and the Fugitive Slave Act) ran violently roughshod over the inalienable rights of humans. Whether a person agrees with current immigration policy or not, the fact remains that no citizen of another country has the inalienable right to settle within the borders of another country. How a country chooses to interact with immigration is between the government of that country and its people. And that brings up Emanuel’s second glaring error.

Ignoring federal law that does not violate the Constitution is not an option for U.S. citizens, especially when that citizen is the mayor of a large city. Chicago’s police department should not be allowed to choose which federal laws it will enforce and which ones it won’t. Besides, Chicago isn’t merely ignoring federal law, the city is actively seeking to violate federal law.

Considering the rising crime and dire financial situation his city is facing, you would think that Rahm Emanuel would have more pressing concerns than scoring cheap ideological points on late night TV. No wonder Chicago is in such a mess.