Frontera Fund News Trump Watch

Sanctuary Cities Fight Back with the Law on Their Side

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Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

Sanctuary cities are fighting back.

Last Monday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions doubled down on President Trump’s threat to defund cities that refuse to collaborate with immigration agents. The same day, legislators from 600 so-called sanctuary cities and jurisdictions vowed to fight back.

“Not only is there power in our numbers and union in our cities, but as municipalities, we have the power to secure a number of tools to expand the protection we offer to our immigrant communities, and that is why we are here today,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at a conference on sanctuary city policy. “We are hoping that we are going to become this administration’s worst nightmare.”

Sessions wants cities to fully cooperate with ICE agents by sharing information on detainees and detaining individuals well after they are free to go (per state statutes) so ICE has time to pick them up – even when individuals have not been convicted of any crime.

“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.”

At stake is more than $4 billion in federal funding, which the government is using to coerce cities into compliance with the Trump-Sessions anti-immigrant agenda. These funds help municipalities fight real crime and improve the quality of life for all.

“It is illegal for the federal government to withdraw funds in a punitive fashion from cities that they say are refusing to comply with ill-guided policies and laws that they are enacting,” added Mark-Viverito.

In the Monday meeting, sanctuary cities’ and jurisdictions’ representatives vowed to fight back. These are the facts that give them confidence in their stance:

Sanctuary policies are not legally defined. Different jurisdictions have different policies and practices on how to handle encounters with undocumented individuals. Some bar government employees from asking residents about their immigration status. Some refuse ICE detainers (ICE holds) unless the person has committed a serious crime. Some have good policies and practices in place without declaring themselves a sanctuary city.

ICE holds may be unconstitutional. As we reported in Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund,  jails that detain individuals for an additional 48 hours after release to provide ICE time for pick-up are being sued in court. Immigration holds likely violate individuals’ rights, and several cases are being considered in different jurisdictions, including Maricopa County, Arizona. ICE holds expose municipalities to lawsuits and sow distrust in communities.

Trump celebrated the rights of states and municipalities to self-determination. Republicans fought hard for states’ rights to make Medicaid expansion voluntary. In 2012, the Supreme Court declared that forcing states to implement the Affordable Care Act expansion was “unconstitutionally coercive.” This Supreme Court decision may come back to haunt them.

Hundreds of legal experts say withholding federal funding from states, counties and cities with “sanctuary” policies violates the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment prohibits the federal government from “commandeering” state and local government by forcing them to enforce federal laws. This protects states’ rights against federal intrusion. Read the letter 292 law scholars and experts wrote to President Trump about the cities’ rights to implement good community policing policies. 

At the heart of this epic battle is public safety for all.

“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,” said New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Follow us as we keep covering this interesting issue.