Sanctuary cities

US IMMIGRATION NOTES - Atty. Marco F.G. Tomakin - The Freeman

With all the legal wrangling and political noise surrounding the administration's policies on immigration, you must have heard or read about "sanctuary cities". What is a sanctuary city and why is President Trump targeting them in his fight against illegal immigrants?

There is no legal definition of what a sanctuary city is. Loosely, it refers to a community that either by stated policy or by tolerated practice allows undocumented immigrants to live and work without fear of deportation. In cities and counties which adopt or declare themselves as sanctuary cities, it is thought that by not having the constant threat of being deported, undocumented immigrants would be more involved and productive within their communities by going to work, sending their kids to school, availing social and health services, spending time in churches and community centers, etc. They are also free to report crimes, either as a witness or a victim, since they would not have to worry about the local police referring them to immigration authorities. Critics call these sanctuary cities as nothing but coddlers of the undocumented who freely roam around even in glaring violation of federal law. Immigration authorities also complain that because of the lack of cooperation by the local police, they have a difficult time apprehending aliens who have criminal convictions. Usually, if an immigrant is arrested for any offense by the local police, his immigration status would be evaluated and if he is undocumented, he would be referred to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Sanctuary cities neither hand over detained immigrants nor comply with ICE requests for detainers. And this is where conflicts between local police and federal agents arise.

The president's latest executive order on immigration takes aim squarely at these sanctuary cities empowering the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney General to block or withhold federal funds, except those mandated by law, intended for these cities. This move would have very unintended dire consequences especially to law enforcement programs that rely on federal grants. Shaming these sanctuary cities is also one of the tactics the administration would use by publishing a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens within their jurisdictions. And of course, there are the courts where the administration could go and file injunctions against cities which have stated sanctuary policies.

It is yet to be seen how the "federal defunding" mandate would work against these sanctuary cities. For sure, these cities would have to be more creative in finding other financial sources for their programs while maintaining their welcoming stance to the undocumented. In the meantime, even while residing in a sanctuary city, the undocumented immigrants continue their daily lives with fear and uncertainty.

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