In the past few weeks, federal agents in military fatigues have been deployed in Portland to protect federal property, garnering national attention by grabbing demonstrators off the street, detaining them in unmarked cars, and attacking peaceful protestors. For those concerned about the authoritarian nature of the actions, their anxieties were not dispelled by Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf’s explanation of the aggressive response, promising to “never surrender to violent extremists” and that DHS forces “will prevail.”
According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, DHS is now planning to send federal agents to the nation’s fourth-largest city as early as this week. Unlike in Portland, where the militarized units were present to quell demonstrations in a small radius in the center of the city, the 150 Homeland Security Investigations agents sent to Chicago will aid the city’s routine crime response. The Tribune reports that the federal agents “are set to assist other federal law enforcement and Chicago police in crime-fighting efforts … though a specific plan on what the agents will be doing — and what their limits would be — had not been made public.” The New York Times reports that the agents, who are under the direction of the Justice Department, are expected to be in the city for at least two months; the HSI officers typically engage in long-term investigations into acts including terrorism and human trafficking.
While homicides and shootings in Chicago are up 48 percent and 46 percent compared to last year, the city has long served as a nexus for the president’s concerns about law and order. Four days into his presidency, Trump called the crime rate in Chicago an example of the “carnage” he mentioned in his inaugural address and vowed to “send in the Feds” if the situation did not improve. With Trump’s early pledge now coming to fruition a little over 100 days before he faces reelection, city leaders don’t anticipate that DHS agents on the ground will have the benefit of Chicago residents in mind. “We don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the streets and holding them, I think, unlawfully,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Monday. In a letter to Trump sent on Monday and obtained by the New York Times, Lightfoot suggested that if the president wanted to help the city he could enact substantial gun-control reform and engage in more serious efforts to control the pandemic. “Any other form of militarized assistance within our borders that would not be within our control or within the direct command of the Chicago Police Department would spell disaster,” she wrote.
Arne Duncan, the former Education secretary for President Obama and the head of the anti-violence group Chicago CRED, told the Tribune that he has “zero confidence that [Trump is] trying to serve anyone’s interests but his own, that’s all he does. It’s creating lawlessness, it’s not stopping it. It is an act of lawlessness itself. If that’s the plan, if that’s the intent, nobody needs it, including Chicago.”
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office on Monday, Trump threatened to extend the deployment of federal agents to other areas of the country. “I’m going to do something — that, I can tell you,” he said. “Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats.” According to the Times, DHS has placed around 2,000 officials from its various agencies on standby if Trump follows through on his orders.
With federal agents in unmarked uniforms in two major American cities, Democrats are revolting against the president’s orders. “We won’t let these authoritarian tactics stand,” said Oregon senator Jeff Merkley, who announced a plan to introduce legislation to restrict the ability of DHS agents to operate if sent in by the federal government. “Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office,” said Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner. “At trial, they will face a Philadelphia jury.”
In an interview on Fox News on Monday, DHS Secretary Chad Wolf dismissed the concerns of municipal leaders. “I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors, or state governors to do our job,” Wolf said. “We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.” As of publication, no major Republican leaders have criticized Wolf for his potential Tenth Amendment violation. “Generally the powers of public safety lie in states and local government,” Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary at DHS during the Obama administration, told the Wall Street Journal. “This is just basically 10th Amendment 101.”