A frequent and controversial theme during the campaign, Donald Trump’s quest to overhaul the country’s immigration policies, is already in motion following a rash of executive order signings, including one that authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to begin releasing a list of crimes committed by immigrants. This, it seems, is an effort to monitor this crop of the population, which could be the first stepping stone for his desire to weed out illegal immigrants.
And let’s not forget his pledge to build that infamous wall (not fence) to slow or stop the tide of immigrants sneaking across the U.S./Mexico border. Details surrounding these plans have been ever changing, especially with the drama between him and Mexican President Enrique Nieto, but for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., it could mean their lives will be uprooted. But some areas of the country, which are called sanctuary cities, may push back against Trump’s mass deportation plans and offer a helping hand to fearful immigrants and their children.
Sanctuary cities may sound like immigrant havens, but the term can have varying interpretations. In essence, a sanctuary city protects immigrants from deportation by limiting its cooperation with federal immigration authorities, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
How Do Sanctuary Cities Help Immigrants?
Currently, 39 cities and 364 counties in the U.S. take up sanctuary status, with some even offering legal assistance if inhabitants are summoned to a deportation hearing. This provides a welcoming humanitarian effort for undocumented immigrants and gives them a fighting chance if they find themselves in distress.
There is no standard legal definition or set of requirements that exist for sanctuary cities, and some only observe the laws in practice. These cities aren’t necessarily thumbing their noses at the federal government, but rather, most sanctuary cities hope that their status benefits undocumented immigrants in the sense that they don’t fear deportation for seeking healthcare, sending their children to school, or even reporting crimes.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi told CNN that he believes a sanctuary city creates a cohesive atmosphere where the law officials respect the citizens and vice versa: “I firmly believe it makes us safer; we’re a world-renowned city with a large immigrant population,” he said. “From a law enforcement perspective, we want to build trust with that population.”
Existing data may highlight Ross’ point. Mother Jones dug into a study from the Center for Immigration Studies and FBI Uniform Crime Report, which found that San Francisco had only 5.75 murders per 100,000 residents in 2013 (as opposed to a non-sanctuary city like Indianapolis which had 15.17 murder per that rate). And sanctuary cities can provide other benefits for the undocumented immigrants who live there. A study from the Harvard Public Health Review found that sanctuary cities have the potential to “bridge a widening gap in health outcomes between undocumented individuals and their native-born or authorized counterparts.”
While sanctuary cities can be fruitful for immigrants and provide them with a sense of relief from deportation threats, some activists — like National Day Laborer Organizing Network organizer Alexis Teodoro — worry that sanctuary cities have already become less than their promise and do not offer “law-abiding policies.” He specifically mentioned how the Los Angeles Police Department announced they would honor sanctuary policies, but that they have worked with ICE on removal operations. Teodoro said this could be misleading:
“The devil is in the details. City sanctuary resolutions are just simple statements. What cities need is a local, law-binding [resolution] with accountability measures in place. Such measures,” he said, “should hold police responsible if they go against sanctuary city policies and help to shield city agencies hoping to better protect vulnerable, undocumented community members.”
How Does Trump Play Into This?
While San Francisco has touted its prowess as a sanctuary city, critics like Trump point to the death of Kathryn Steinle, who was shot and killed in 2015 by undocumented immigrant Francisco Sanchez, as a reason why sanctuary cities can be dangerous. Sanchez had been deported five times from the U.S., and NBC reported he had seven prior felony convictions.
This set off some alarms with even San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, who is a proponent of the city’s sanctuary status, saying these cities “should not create a safe harbor for convicted, violent felons.” Lee also believes that officials should be doing their due diligence to deal with criminals, despite immigration status. During his campaign, Trump used Steinle’s case to push his immigration policy, claiming that if he was in charge, and his border plans were in place, she would be alive today:
“This senseless and totally preventable act of violence committed by an illegal immigrant is yet another example of why we must secure our border immediately. This is an absolutely disgraceful situation and I am the only one that can fix it. Nobody else has the guts to even talk about it. That won’t happen if I become President.”
Aware that words aren’t going to bend these cities to his will, Trump has focused on, essentially, sanctions of a kind by threatening to withhold aid, in addition to adding 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and enabling local law enforcement to double as immigration officer. “Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars,” Trump warned back August 2016. And now that he’s president, Trump’s aggressive move could cause the 10 largest cities in the U.S. to lose $2.27 billion in federal funding. That could mean cuts to Head Start pre-school funds, HIV prevention, and airport improvements, this according to Reuters.
In Trump’s order — titled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States — seven different groups who he’s prioritized for deportation are listed: (1) Those convicted of a crime; (2) Those charged with a crime; (3) Those who have committed an act that qualifies as a chargeable offense; (4) Those who have committed fraud against or willfully misrepresented themselves to the U.S. government; (5) Those who have abused a welfare program; (6) Those who have already been ordered to leave the U.S.; (7) Those who have been deemed by a deportation officer to be a threat to public safety or national security.
Officials in sanctuary cities now face a tough choice, but the response has been mixed thus far.
How Are These Sanctuary Cities Pushing Back?
Republican Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez (who voted for Hillary Clinton) has already publicly resisted its unofficial status as a sanctuary city, drawing praise from Trump on Twitter. Gimenez ordered all county jails to cooperate with federal immigration detention requests to avoid losing federal funding.
Last year, the county declined to hold some 100 inmates wanted by the feds. Keeping them in local jails would have cost about $52,000 — a relative drop in the bucket for a county with a total annual budget of $7 billion.
In contrast, the county’s 2017 budget shows it’s counting on receiving some $355 million in federal funds — money that subsidizes elderly services, beds for the homeless, police officers and other government expenses. It’s unclear how much of that comes from the sort of grants Trump has threatened to deny sanctuary municipalities.
Elsewhere, several sanctuary cities have called Trump’s bluff. They’ve also largely vowed to challenge the constitutionality of the punishments he threatens to levy against undocumented immigrants in these cities. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has reassured immigrants that — if worse comes to worse — they can take shelter in City Hall. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has declared that his city won’t be bullied, and he will rework budgets to guard against funding loss. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has authorized a million dollar legal defense fund for immigrants. And in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned Trump’s order, warning that a loss in federal funding “could, in fact, undermine public safety.”
De Blasio’s words bring some irony to Trump’s order, as Trump believes that deporting undocumented immigrants is necessary to increase American safety. But without federal funding, countless programs would be gutted, which would create a whole new set of problems and drive citizens who rely on them to possibly commit crimes. That’s where Trump forgets about the human consequences of his orders, and one must also remember that families’ lives and well-being are at stake. It remains to be seen how Trump’s order will fully affect sanctuary cities, but we’ll be watching.