February 12, 2020
Yesterday the Attorney General, William Barr, announced lawsuits aimed at “sanctuary” laws in cities and states that limit local cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Barr announced the lawsuits at an annual gathering of Sheriffs in Washington, D.C., saying, "Today is a significant escalation in the federal government's efforts to confront the resistance of 'sanctuary cities.' We will consider taking action against any jurisdiction that, or any politician who, unlawfully obstructs the federal enforcement of immigration law."
The laws in question are: A Washington state policy that does not allow Seattle Airport to be used for deportations. A New Jersey law that limits information sharing between ICE and local law enforcement. And a California law that bans the use of private prison companies for the detention of immigrants. None of these laws obstruct federal enforcement of immigration laws. They do, however, limit state participation in federal enforcement activities based on well documented patterns of abuse by these federal agencies.
These laws also reflect the increasing patchwork of state and local ordinances that have evolved in response to Trump’s hyper-polarization of immigration policy. So, New Jersey and New York City limit information sharing between local law enforcement and ICE; Texas and Florida require local law enforcement’s cooperation. Immigration is the partisan marker of the day, and Trump is leaning in on this further as the key component of his re-election strategy. As King County, Washington, Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. "We are already actively engaged in an administrative process with the FAA to resolve our differing interpretations. The Trump administration and Attorney General Barr chose to circumvent this work for the sake of grabbing headlines."
As I am writing, Lawrence City in Kansas is considering its own set of sanctuary laws. In Lawrence, as is often the case, the local police department supports the ordinance. The reasoning in a police department memo on the new ordinance is consistent with what other police departments have argued across the country. Immigration enforcement is not their responsibility. Requiring local law enforcement to participate in enforcement activities hurts their relationship with the community, undermines trust, and ultimately makes communities less safe. According to the memo:
The need for community trust and cooperation is an essential component of effective policing and public safety. In Furtherance of this principle, victims and witnesses of crime should not be the focus of immigration inquiries and should be encouraged to cooperate in the reporting and investigation of crime. To encourage reporting and cooperation in the investigation of criminal activity, all individuals, regardless of their immigration status, must feel secure that contacting or being addressed by members of the law enforcement will not automatically lead to immigration inquiry and/or deportation.
This reasoned statement of the need for community cooperation with law enforcement can be set against Trump’s statement during the State of the Union address last week. From CNN:
"Tragically, there are many cities in America where radical politicians have chosen to provide sanctuary for these criminal, illegal aliens," Trump said. "In sanctuary cities local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public, instead of handing them over to ICE to be safely removed.”
The reality is that cities are simply releasing people who have served their sentence. Even in so-called sanctuary cities, officials will hold people if an actual judicial warrant is presented. The problem is that ICE doesn’t do this. They issue administrative warrants, or detainers, for people, who may or may not be in violation of an immigration status. Indeed, as we reported yesterday, they are not particularly careful - leading to 6% of detainers being mistakenly issued against U.S. citizens or people who have no removal order in place. ICE is sloppy. Does this mean that people might be released who then commit a second crime. Sure. It can happen. The point is that such recidivism is not a function of immigration status. If federal authorities have reason to believe someone is a threat, they need to do what law enforcement is supposed to do. Request a proper warrant. Turning local law enforcement into immigration law enforcers backfires in their communities. While law enforcement officials are not of one mind about this, certainly many do not want to be put in this position. It makes it harder for them to do the job they are supposed to be doing. The administration’s irresponsible rhetoric serves one purpose, and that is to scare people and try to win elections doing so.