Uncertainty for Sanctuary Cities Under Trump

January 24th, 2017

By Brendan Kreckel 

During his eight years as president, Barack Obama deported over 2.5 million people; the most of any president in the history of the United States. President Donald Trump has promised to outdo the Obama administration in an unrealistic plan to deport 2 to 3 million people in his first 100 days in office. While the specifics of a potential crackdown are unknown, some cities across the country have reasserted their determination to resist as  “Sanctuary Cities.”

According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (“ILRC”), there are 39 cities and 364 counties in the country that qualify as Sanctuary Cities in the United States, including New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Policies and practices in cities with sanctuary status vary widely. For example, some local law enforcement agencies do not detain potential undocumented immigrants at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without a judge’s order. Other localities forbid police officers from asking individuals they stop about their immigration status.

President Trump proposes to target Sanctuary Cities by cutting their federal funding. These federal withholdings could cut billions of dollars from cities that refuse to use local officers to assist federal immigration officials in detention and deportation efforts.

Federal funds support important city programs, such as child services and public housing initiatives. Should Trump’s policies be enacted, New York City, for example, could lose up to $10.4 billion in federal funds according to the City Council Speaker’s Officer. The new administration would need the support of Congress, which maintains the powers of spending and taxation, to make these threats a reality.

Photo Credit: Seattle Globalist via Creative Commons clpmag.org/series.php?id=14

Photo Credit: Seattle Globalist via Creative Commons clpmag.org/series.php?id=14

Many believe there is a strong moral obligation to have and promote Sanctuary Cities, a sentiment that has been with the movement from the start. This movement began in the 1980s when faith based groups protected immigrants that had escaped the death squads of Central America.  At the time, the United States did not allow these refugees, to whom many community leaders felt it was their moral duty to provide sanctuary, to enter and remain in the country.

Opponents of Sanctuary Cities claim the cities’ noncompliance with federal policies means they are interfering with law enforcement’s ability to uphold the law and keep United States citizens safe. During the election some anti-immigrant rhetoric centered around an outlier case involving the alleged murder of Katherine Steinle by undocumented immigrant Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez. Lopez-Sanchez was released by the San Francisco sheriffs despite an active ICE detainer request. The city has said it will not adjust local policy in the face of criticism.

Sanctuary Cities, like San Francisco, protect the constitutional rights of their inhabitants by preventing local law enforcement agents from racial profiling and targeting. Civil Rights groups have voiced concerns that federal detention and deportation policies can lead to harassment and targeting of Latinos by local law enforcement. What’s more, victims of crimes who fear deportation may not report or assist in the administration of justice for fear that they will be picked up by ICE.

It is important to note that ICE detainer requests are civil and do not follow the same rules as criminal warrants. ICE detainers, which are considered requests rather than orders, do not require a court’s approval, and once detained by ICE authorities, an individual has limited right to defend themselves in court. Furthermore, because immigration is considered a civil matter, an individual does not have a right to an attorney as they would with a criminal charge.

Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, officers are not allowed to detain individuals without probable cause supported by a warrant. ICE’s detainer requests, however, need not be supported by a judge’s approval. A federal judge in Illinois found that requiring law enforcement to hold someone on less than probable cause violates individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights.  The Supreme Court has not ruled on this issue.