By Irasema Garza
Contributing Editor & Legal Analyst
A federal judge has permanently blocked President Trump’s January 2017 Executive Order (EO). The EO, was one of the first policy actions taken by the President early in his Administration. It was intended to crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials. The Trump Administration has announced that it will appeal the order to a federal court of appeals.
The debate over sanctuary cities intensified the past year with the Trump Administration’s dogged attempt to link crime to immigrants and to punish cities that choose to
not assist federal immigration agents with routine detainment of undocumented immigrants. There are an estimated 600 sanctuary cities across the country as well as a number of sanctuary states.
- There is no universal definition of what constitutes a sanctuary city.
Generally the term sanctuary city or sanctuary jurisdiction is used to describe states and local governments that adopt formal and informal policies that limit cooperation with federal Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). By contrast, and since the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, a majority of American cities regularly enter into agreements with the federal government to enable their local police to act as federal immigration agents.
New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Chicago are examples of sanctuary cities. The mayors of these cities generally argue that working too closely with ICE would detrimentally affect their respective cities; it would undermine the public safety and erode community trust. For example, immigrants that fear being deported are less likely to report violent crime. Further, when police are required to enforce immigration law, resources are diverted away from critical community policing priorities.
- It is the Federal Government’s Responsibility to Enforce the Nation’s Immigration Laws
The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that the Constitution gives the federal government broad power over immigration policy and primary responsibility over immigration law enforcement. Importantly, the Tenth Amendment also prohibits the federal government from coercing state and local governments to carrying out federal law, including immigration enforcement.
These are among the legal precedents relied upon by the Federal District Court in its decision to permanently enjoin the Trump Administration from implementing the EO.
- “Sanctuary” Policies Do Not Protect Violent Criminals
Contrary to prevalent political rhetoric, local jurisdictions that adopt sanctuary policies, do not protect undocumented individuals from deportation nor do they shield immigrants from prosecution for criminal activities. Notably, sanctuary city policies do not prevent police from enforcing any criminal laws against immigrants that commit crimes.
- Sanctuary Counties Have Less Crime and Stronger Economies
Attorney General Jeff Session, in an effort to link crime to immigrants, maintains that sanctuary jurisdictions have higher rates of violent crime than other cities. To the contrary, a 2017 report concludes that sanctuary counties have significantly less crime and stronger economies as compared to non- sanctuary counties. The report defines sanctuary counties as those “that do not assist federal immigration enforcement officials by holding people in custody past their release date.”
The report further found that when police concentrate on community safety instead of on cooperative measures with immigration enforcement agents, communities are safer, and residents are more engaged in the local economy.
- The U.S. Has A History Of Sanctuary Movements
The term “sanctuary” is rooted in ancient Christian-Judeo tradition of temporarily offering sanctuary to individuals fleeing from persecution. The concept defined a 1980s movement that developed following mass migration of Central Americans fleeing violence from civil war in El Salvador and Guatemala. Despite reports of death squads, disappearances and thousands of civilian murders by the military, the U.S. government deemed Central Americans escaping to the U.S. as economic migrants, not eligible for
political asylum. In response, hundreds of churches from various denominations declared themselves sanctuaries, offering protection to Central Americans arriving in the U.S. The movement gave rise to sustained legal challenges, which together with increased public outcry over the treatment of refugees forced congress to grant temporary protected status to certain refugees and the ability to seek political asylum to one reaching the U.S. in the 1980s.
Today, there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The vast majority of these immigrants work, contribute to the national economy, raise families and live peacefully in cities and communities across the country. Until Congress passes meaningful immigration reforms to address the broken immigration system, there will continue to be a need for sanctuary city policies to address the life experiences of immigrants within these jurisdictions.