From the Muslim Ban to Deportation Raids: Can Sanctuary Cities Hold Their Promise?

by | Feb 15, 2017 | News

Last week, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court denied the White House’s appeal to reinstate Trump’s executive order (EO) restricting the travel of people coming from seven specific, Muslim-majority countries. The EO also disregards a traveler’s place of residence, prior permissions, or any vetting already endured.

Thankfully, the justices found fault with the lack of due process and the focus on a specific religion, which violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law respecting an establishment of religion. Now, the president has tweeted that he will go back to the courts for more legal battle.

Trump’s failed attempt to ban Muslims was followed by nationwide reports of aggressive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. A mother in Arizona, who lived and worked in this country for nearly 20 years, was just deported after a regular immigration check-in. The highly publicized event seemed to serve as a kick-off for sweeps through neighborhoods in cities around the country.

Up until now, there was a policy to target only violent felons, not mothers using fake social security numbers to support their families. Understandably, lots of folks are scared and fearful of what retaliatory, unconstitutional actions by the Republican administration lay in store. The uncertain plight of thousands of immigrants and their families has brought the issue of sanctuary cities into sharp focus.


Where are sanctuary cities?


Mayors of cities like Oakland, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City have proclaimed their status as “Sanctuary Cities.” Mayor Garcetti of Los Angeles stated, “Our law enforcement officers and LAPD don’t go around asking people for their papers, nor should they…That’s not the role of local law enforcement.” The Los Angeles Chief of Police backs that up and said his officers won’t comply with the order.

So what exactly does it mean for a city to declare itself a sanctuary? There is no one definition and no one is really checking to see which ones make good on their commitments. Basically, it means that local law enforcement agencies and officials will not cooperate with federal agency requests to detain or deport anyone.

The reality is that local police and sheriffs do not want the responsibility of policing immigration. It is costly, requiring manpower, and it interferes with giving attention to issues that are concretely impacting communities. In fact, many feel it would be detrimental to the relationship law enforcement tries to cultivate with communities. Also, if undocumented residents are afraid to come forward to report crimes, it undermines the safety of the community.


Sanctuary city policies


All sanctuary cities do not have identical policies in place, but they all have a similar set of policies that aim to treat residents the same, and to protect those undocumented residents who are otherwise law abiding, from being targeted for deportation. An example would be allowing undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses. According to CNN, twelve states and the District of Columbia allow undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s license.

Another common policy is the development of funds to help represent immigrants in court, to defend against unlawful convictions or deportation. During the Obama administration deportations increased, and as a result many cities had to grapple with assisting those residents. Chicago recently set aside $1.3 million to assist with legal fees.

Los Angeles has collaborated with the county and other organizations to put together $10 million to assist with the problem. The  U.S. has around 11 million undocumented residents, so the need is real, especially if the president keeps his campaign promises.

Permitting undocumented students to attend school without fear of deportation is an important policy that makes a big impact. Many undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. as children.  Under the Obama administration, the law mandated that schools accept undocumented children.

Educating these kids is important, because it keeps them off the streets and out of dangerous situations, giving them a foundation to become productive citizens. Without education, a path forward is difficult, treacherous, and counterproductive for immigrants and our communities.


The courts will decide


Certainly, sanctuary city policies that assist the undocumented help our communities to deal with real problems and real responsibilities. And the “bad guys” are still pursued, regardless of immigration status. So sanctuary cities sound great for a nation built by immigrants, right? Except the president has now signed an EO to take funds away from any jurisdiction that does not cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security.

The new Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly, seems to be toeing the line with everything the president has promised to put into action. If this EO makes it through the courts–that is, if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear this case–then there could be some funding consequences for cities.

Chances are, final decisions about both the immigration ban and the constitutionality of withholding federal funding from sanctuary cities will wind up in the Supreme Court. The big question is whether the latest nominee for Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch, will be installed to participate in those decisions. Gorsuch is preparing for his confirmation hearing, which has been quite harrowing for others, so who knows how long it will take.


The writing on the wall


If the immigration ban decision went to the Supreme Court right now, the court might be expected to split a decision 4 to 4. Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Kagan and Breyer are considered liberal, while Alito, Roberts, Thomas and Kennedy are on the right — although Kennedy sides with liberal justices on occasion.

Most likely, without Gorsuch there will be a 4-4 tie and the lower court ruling will stay in place. However, a lower court decision does not carry the weight of a Supreme Court opinion. With a new conservative justice seated, a final count would probably go 5-4 in favor of a more conservative judicial agenda.

Nevertheless, the writing on the wall does not seem to be deterring local officials who are standing up for immigrant rights. Whatever happens in the courts, sanctuary cities will probably remain in existence in some form, as resistance groups and individuals work to prevent more damage to our democracy by the current chief executive.

What can you do?

House and Senate lawmakers have introduced legislation to reverse and defund Trump’s Executive Order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Action Into the United States”.

Together We Will is partnering with the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) to stop Trump’s ban. Please join us in emailing your lawmakers today to urge them to cosponsor and pass this legislation.

Jacqui Viale lives in Long Beach, California, with her husband and two children. She holds a Masters in Educational Administration from California State University Long Beach. Her passion is public education and equal rights.