After failing to deliver on one of his biggest promises—repealing the Affordable Care Act—President Trump has set his sights on another campaign pledge: defunding so-called sanctuary cities to the tune of $4.1 billion in federal grants.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a White House briefing Monday said sanctuary cities “make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets.” In order to continue receiving federal funds, Sessions explained, state and local jurisdictions would need to certify that they are complying with federal immigration laws.
Pulling federal funding could harm these jurisdictions, and to many advocates, it seems a harsh response when considering sanctuary cities usually offer little more than statements of solidarity to undocumented immigrants.
A sanctuary city has policies that limit how much local law enforcement and government agencies can work with federal immigration authorities, but all law enforcement offices forward the biometrics of undocumented people to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Upon receiving this information, ICE will typically issue a detainer request, a written request asking that the local jail or law enforcement agency detain the person for an additional 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) after their release date to provide ICE agents time to decide whether to take the person into federal custody. ICE could then deport the undocumented person.
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Some jurisdictions honor all of ICE’s detainer requests, while others do not unless they’re accompanied by a warrant signed by a judge. Contrary to what Sessions and other Trump administration officials assert, failing to honor an ICE detainer request is not always a sign that a jurisdiction identifies as a “sanctuary city.” Rather, it is about protecting themselves from pricy lawsuits.
Sanctuary city officials were quick to respond to Sessions’ threats. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement that state and local governments and law enforcement have “broad authority under the constitution to not participate in federal immigration enforcement.” Schneiderman in January issued legal guidance for sanctuary jurisdictions that provided tools to protect immigrant communities.
Sessions’ announcement came one week after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its first-ever Declined Detainer Outcome Report, a misleading breakdown of jurisdictions that did not honor ICE detainer requests from January 28 to February 3. While the report never mentions the phrase “sanctuary cities,” law enforcement officials told Rewire it was clearly an attempt “to shame jurisdictions that are refusing to break the law on ICE’s behalf.” Many legal and constitutional concerns exist around ICE detainer requests, and courts have instructed communities not to comply with these requests in order to avoid lawsuits.
The report characterizes those who were released as a result of an ICE detainer not being honored as “criminals,” despite many not being convicted of a crime, as Rewire reported. The DHS report failed to mention that detainer requests are not mandatory or legally required, local and state law enforcement agencies have no obligation to honor them, and detainers do not indicate probable cause or operate as an arrest warrant.
Undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities have been targeted by immigration authorities for weeks. ICE has been pursuing sanctuary cities with “increased enforcement operations in an effort to pressure those jurisdictions to cooperate with federal immigration agents,” CNN reported.
This month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin revealed that the February immigration sweeps in the Austin metro area that were part of the nationwide immigration sweeps known as Operation Cross Check that resulted in the detainment of nearly 700 people. Those sweeps were done in retaliation for the sheriff’s office’s decision to limit cooperation with ICE.
“There’s been questions about whether Austin is being targeted. We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town. There was going to be a specific operation, and it was at least related to us in that meeting that it was a result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen,” Austin said in an audio recording of a March immigration hearing.
There have been studies confirming undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens. There is a great deal of evidence showing that when local law enforcement agencies work with ICE, undocumented immigrants are less likely to report crimes they witness or crimes committed against them.
In Los Angeles, instances of domestic violence and sexual assault are going unreported because, under Trump, victims fear that any interaction with law enforcement will lead to their deportation. Some jurisdictions have had sanctuary policies in place for nearly 30 years to little fanfare, with many of these cities establishing trust with immigrant communities and making the larger community safer because of it.
“President Trump lacks the constitutional authority to broadly cut off funding to states and cities just because they have lawfully acted to protect immigrant families,” Schneiderman’s statement continued. “Public safety depends on trust between law enforcement and those they bravely serve; yet, again and again, President Trump’s draconian policies only serve to undercut that trust.”