CHICAGO - In an interview with Fox News this week, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ripped into Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot for her response to the sexual assault of a 3-year-old girl, allegedly at the hands of an illegal immigrant who had been sprung from custody by the city’s sanctuary policies.
The Democratic mayor had attempted to shift the blame to ICE in the aftermath.
“I think it’s the height of hypocrisy,” acting ICE Director Matthew Albence told Fox News. “I can tell you, I’ve been firsthand trying to work with the city of Chicago for the better part of a decade to get them to cooperate with us so we can get criminals off the streets.”
The city’s controversial sanctuary city policies, in which local law enforcement ignore detainer requests from ICE that they be notified when arrested illegal immigrants are released from custody, have come under renewed scrutiny after one of those sprung from custody was arrested last month for allegedly sexually assaulting the 3-year-old in a bathroom.
ICE had lodged a detainer in June against Christopher Puente, who has several felony convictions and a prior removal, after he was arrested for theft. But Chicago ignored the request and released him.
Christopher Puente | Chicago police
He was arrested again last month for the alleged assault. According to FOX 32 Chicago, prosecutors said the attack happened after the little girl’s father took his son and daughter to the men’s bathroom at a fast-food restaurant, taking the boy into a stall but leaving the girl outside.
Prosecutors say Puente then motioned for the girl to enter his stall, locked it, held the victim by the back of her head and covered her mouth. They say the girl’s father heard her cries and frantically tried to open the stall -- he was able to see her feet dangling off the ground. He eventually grabbed her legs and pulled her out from under the stall. The girl was later hospitalized.
But Lightfoot, asked about the policies that prevented the man from being removed from the country long ago, stood by the policies and shifted the blame to ICE.
"They're critical because we have said very clearly we are a welcoming city, a sanctuary city. Chicago Police Department will not cooperate with ICE on any immigration-related business," she said when asked about the case.
"And that's affected their ability to conduct immigration raids across the city. But that's exactly our intention. We have to make sure that our police department is seen as a legitimate force in all our communities," she said, before saying she is open to federal partnerships but only “in a way that is consistent with our values as a city.”
“If ICE is complaining, then they should do their job better," she said.
Albence responded to the remarks by laying out exactly how Chicago was hindering ICE: “They've cut out our information sharing ability, they've cut off our ability to get individuals they have in custody turned over to us, they've cut us out of the gang database."
“So for the mayor to sit there and say ICE should do its job better — we’d love to do our job better but we depend on the cooperation of other law enforcement agencies, just like Chicago Police Department does,” he said. “When they are working a case, they rely on the cooperation of other law enforcement agencies as well, that's how law enforcement works — information sharing, intelligence sharing, and the sharing and pooling of resources.”
He went on to note that it is the latest in a string of violent crimes allegedly committed by illegal immigrants who were released from custody despite ICE detainers. The Trump administration has sought to bring attention to other cases too, including the sexual assault and murder of a 92-year-old woman in New York City earlier this year. The granddaughter of the victim blamed the sanctuary policies specifically for her death.
“We have seen time and time again, unfortunately, way too many tragic circumstances like this poor 3-year-old kid who is going to suffer trauma for the rest of her life as a result of Chicago not turning this criminal over to us when we asked for him last year,” Albence told Fox News.
Sanctuary policies have been implemented in cities and states across the country. Proponents say that it encourages illegal immigrants who are victims or witnesses of crime to cooperate -- and therefore make cities safer as a result. But Albence said ICE targets criminals, and normally doesn’t know the identity of witnesses or victims.
He also rejected the claim that such policies are in place because local politicians simply don’t want to get involved in immigration enforcement and it isn’t their responsibility to do so. He said that ICE doesn't want them to, requesting only a call that a criminal is being released.
“When they make policies that prevent ICE from doing its job, they have gotten involved in immigration law enforcement, they’ve gotten involved in impeding immigration law enforcement,” he said. “They’ve made a determination that their political aspirations are more important than the safety of their constituents.”
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