The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is crafting plans to deploy about 150 federal agents to Chicago this week, the Chicago Tribune has learned, a move that would come amid growing controversy nationally about federal force being used in American cities.
The Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, agents are set to assist other federal law enforcement and Chicago police in crime-fighting efforts, according to sources familiar with the matter, though a specific plan on what the agents will be doing had not been made public.
One city official said the city was aware of the plan but not any specifics. The Chicago Police Department had no immediate comment.
One Immigration and Customs Enforcement official in Chicago, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter, confirmed the deployment was expected to take place. The official noted that the HSI agents, who are part of ICE, would not be involved in immigration or deportation matters.
It was unclear where all the agents would be coming from, though many were expected to be from agencies operating in the Chicago area. Questions remained about the chain of command they would fall under.
Federal agents being used to confront street protesters in Portland, Oregon, has raised alarm in many circles. Chicago, too, has dealt with protests that have led to injuries in recent days.
At an unrelated news conference Monday morning, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she has great concerns about the general possibility of President Donald Trump sending feds to Chicago based on what has happened in Portland.
If Trump wants to help, she said, he could boost federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives resources and fully fund prosecutors.
“We don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the streets and holding them, I think, unlawfully,” Lightfoot said.
Word of the Chicago plan comes as Trump last week made a vague announcement on how his administration intended to deal with crime in big U.S. cities like Chicago. The Republican president, who has been critical of Chicago’s violence throughout his term, has been pushing a “law and order” message as he enters the final stretch of his reelection campaign against his presumptive Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.
In a briefing with reporters, Trump said he would have more to say on the topic this week, along with the attorney general, the FBI and others, because the “left-wing group of people that are running our cities are not doing the job that they’re supposed to be doing, and it’s not a very tough job to do if they knew what they were doing.”
Trump alluded to the same issue in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, calling Chicago and New York “stupidly run” cities and blaming the violent crime there on Lightfoot and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Wallace pushed back on Trump’s comments, saying “liberal Democrats have been running cities in this country for decades,” before the president interrupted with “poorly.”
Lightfoot pushed back last week on criticism from Trump’s press secretary, saying the Trump administration is trying to put the blame on Democrats for political purposes to “score points with their base.”
Without offering specifics, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told Fox News over the weekend that Trump, Attorney General William Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf would roll out a plan this week about tamping down crime in various U.S. cities.
“Some of the unrest that we saw, even in the last month or so, but particularly last night and in the week leading up to it in Portland, is just not acceptable when you look at communities not being safe and not upholding the rule of law,” said Meadows. “So, Attorney General Barr is weighing in on that with Secretary Wolf and you’ll see something rolled out this week as we start to go in and make sure that the communities, whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or some place across the heartland of the country, we need to make sure their communities are safe.”
As news of the plans spread, leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois issued a strongly worded statement opposing the move.
“Make no mistake: Trump’s unmarked federal forces will not assist in constructively addressing violence in Chicago,” Colleen Connell, executive director of the group, said in the statement. “As our colleagues have seen in Portland, Trump’s secret forces will terrorize communities, and create chaos. This is not law and order. This is an assault on the people of this country, the specific protections of protest and press in the First Amendment, and the Constitution’s assignment of policing to local authorities, not a president acting like a despot.”
On Saturday, the president of the Chicago police’s largest union had sent Trump a letter asking for help from the federal government in putting a lid on crime in the city.
“I am certain you are aware of the chaos currently affecting our city on a regular basis now,” John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, wrote in a letter that was posted on the FOP’s Facebook page. “I am writing to formally ask you for help from the federal government. Mayor Lightfoot has proved to be a complete failure who is either unwilling or unable to maintain law and order here.”
So far in 2020, Chicago has experienced one of its most violent years in recent memory, especially since late May with the fallout over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota. Through July 12, homicides in Chicago were up 48% with 385, compared with 260 at the same time last year, official CPD statistics show. Shootings were also up by 46%.
During a 28-day period through July 12, 116 people were slain in Chicago, the statistics show. That’s up from 41 during the same period in 2019.
In addition to Portland, Homeland Security agents have already been sent to other cities, including Washington, D.C., and Seattle.
Oregon’s attorney general sued Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service on Friday, alleging in a complaint that federal agents in Portland, which has continued to see intense unrest since Floyd’s death on May 25, unjustifiably grabbed people from the city’s streets.
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