Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that, to her understanding, President Donald Trump is not sending federal agents to Chicago to arrest protesters, as has happened in Oregon in the past week.
Speaking at an unrelated press conference Tuesday afternoon, Lightfoot said she had been told that federal authorities were instead sending additional “resources” to Chicago to work with existing federal agencies, such as the FBI, DEA and ATF, but that they would not be working on the streets in unmarked cars, as they did in Portland.
“At least at this point … we don’t see a Portland-style deployment coming to Chicago,” Lightfoot said.
The war of words between Chicago’s mayor and Trump had escalated after reports the Trump administration would send federal agents to the city following a weekend when 12 people were killed in the city and dozens injured by gunfire.
The Department of Homeland Security was planning to deploy about 150 Homeland Security Investigations agents to Chicago to help local law enforcement with a spike in crime, according to an official with direct knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Those agents generally do lengthy investigations into human trafficking, drugs and weapons smuggling and child exploitation, but they have also been deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border during the height of the crisis there to help.
In Chicago, the Homeland Security Investigations agents were expected to stay in Chicago at least two months, the official who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity said. It’s not clear exactly how they will back up local law enforcement, but they will make arrests for federal crimes, not local ones.
It’s possible they may also be deployed to other locations at some point. They would essentially be working under the Justice Department, the official said.
A DHS spokesman said the department doesn’t comment on “allegedly leaked operations.”
Calling the move to send agents to Chicago “wrong-headed,” Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker said Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf would not take his calls.
“He’s refused to call me back, telling us that he couldn’t get back to me until about 48 hours from now. That’s ridiculous,” Pritzker told reporters at an unrelated news conference in downstate Collinsville on Tuesday. “We’re going to do everything we can to prevent them from coming, and if they do come, we’re going to do everything we can from a legal perspective to get them out.”
U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Chicago, had earlier confirmed the deployment of federal agents to Chicago in a virtual conference call with the press Tuesday morning. Garcia said he obtained internal documents from the DHS indicating “cross-designation trainings” beginning in Chicago Tuesday.
“We saw Customs and Border Patrol agents cross designated to do work for ICE, and this information coincides with the deployment of over 150 DHS agents to Chicago under the guise of protecting federal property,” the congressman said.
“I fear that the presence of unwanted federal agents in our city streets will only escalate tensions and violence in our communities,” Garcia added. “Such a deployment in Chicago represents a hideous overreach of federal authority, and it’s just the latest example of the president’s desperate attempt to distract us from his abysmal handling of the deadly coronavirus, an effort to appear as the law-and-order president.”
Meanwhile, Illinois’ two U.S. senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth announced a bill that would block the Trump administration from deploying federal forces as a “shadowy paramilitary against Americans.”
The Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act would require federal troops to wear identification, including their full name and agency they work for. It would prohibit the use of unmarked vehicles from being used in arrests and would require 24 hours notice to local municipalities alerting them of the deployment of federal troops.
The Trump administration has already sent federal officers in Portland, Ore., after weeks of protests there over police brutality and racial injustice that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Oregon’s governor and Portland’s mayor have expressed anger with the presence of the federal agents, saying that the city’s protests had started to ease just as the federal agents started taking action.
However, Trump, framing such protests in the nation’s large cities as a failure by “liberal Democrats” who run them, praised the officers’ actions and said he was looking to send agents to other cities.
He pointed to rising gun violence in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, where more than 63 people were shot, 12 fatally, over the weekend.
“How about Chicago? Would you say they need help after this weekend?” Trump told reporters at the White House. “You know the numbers that you hear, the numbers? Many, many shot. Many, many killed.”
None of the weekend shootings were connected to a Friday night protest where people marching against police brutality and racial injustice tried to topple a statue of Christopher Columbus, and Trump did not specifically reference that.
Video shows officers using batons to beat protesters, some of whom threw fireworks, pieces of pipe and frozen bottles of water at police.
“We’re going to have more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
Trump’s comments about Chicago come after the president of the local police officer’s union wrote him a letter asking “for help from the federal government” to help combat gun violence. The city has seen 414 homicides this year, compared with 275 during the same period last year.
Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, a vocal supporter of Trump, called Lightfoot a “complete failure who is either unwilling or unable to maintain law and order,” but did not say what kind of help he was asking for or whether he wants federal troops to be sent to the city.
Lightfoot in turn called Catanzara “an unhinged leader of the Fraternal Order of Police who is craven and trying to get attention.”
Lightfoot: Federal agents aren’t needed, nor is Trump’s “unhelpful” rhetoric
Lightfoot has previously rejected any suggestion that federal law enforcement officers should be dispatched to the city.
In a letter sent to the president on Monday, Lightfoot said the deployment of secret, federal agents who “arrest, and detain residents without any cause” is a bad idea and urged the president not to do it.
Lightfoot, a frequent Trump critic, slammed the president in the letter for “unhelpful” rhetoric and detailed ways the federal government could help the city to reduce violence, including gun safety reform, public safety support, community outreach and community investment.
“Reasonable local police officials, including our superintendent, know that it is a dangerous road for us to go down,” Lightfoot said late Monday in an interview on MSNBC. “We are not going to have people who don’t know our streets don’t know our neighborhoods and then who are engaging in clearly unconstitutional conduct operating at will in our city.”
Lightfoot, a former assistant U.S. attorney, said Tuesday that it was her understanding, however, that the agents being sent to Chicago would be overseen by the U.S. attorney’s office based in the city, and would not be working the streets to arrest people as they had in Portland. If that changes, she said, she said the city would be ready to try to stop it.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also rejected any deployment of federal forces in Chicago, vowing to hold the “Trump administration and any such federal forces accountable for unconstitutional actions.”
Trump’s comments Monday were not the first time he has made disparaging comments about Chicago leaders, and what he says is their inability to control violence.
Just last month, Trump sent a letter criticizing Lightfoot and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker for a “lack of leadership” in stemming gun violence.
Lightfoot dismissed Trump’s letter as a “litany of nonsense.”
Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani and Colleen Long contributed to this story from Washington.