Recently there has been a lot in the news about “sanctuary cities,” as well as sanctuary states, counties and villages. What does this term mean, and what is the impact of “sanctuary” status upon our community, state and nation? Here is what my research has turned up:
* A sanctuary jurisdiction typically refuses federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants who are apprehended for low-level offenses. For example, when someone gets picked up for a DUI, he/she is processed and released. If they are “undocumented” federal authorities would typically be alerted, and that individual would be held pending a response from the federal agency. If requested, most jurisdictions would turn that individual over to federal immigration agencies. A jurisdiction with a sanctuary policy generally refuses to comply with such requests, or never even notifies federal agencies about the arrest or detention.
* Partially because some jurisdictions do not report data about undocumented immigrants, there is no clear data regarding how many individuals are involved. Most sources indicate that there are between 10 million and 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. About 60% of all illegal immigrants live in six states: California, New York, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas.
* There is no agreement on how many sanctuary jurisdictions there are. There is also no standard definition for a sanctuary jurisdiction. However, there are four states (California, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut), 39 cities, and 364 counties, that have passed sanctuary laws or ordinances. The New York State Assembly recently passed a bill to make NYS a sanctuary state.
* President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off federal funds to jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agencies regarding undocumented (“illegal”) immigrants. This could have huge impact for some cities and states. For example, San Francisco receives more than $500 million in such aid annually. It is unclear whether he has authority to do so. In 2013 a federal appeals court issued a decision stating that local jurisdictions could not be compelled to cooperate with federal immigration agencies. The Obama administration didn’t pursue that adverse decision.
* Pro-sanctuary groups cite statistics that say that their communities are safer than other communities that cooperate with federal immigration agencies. Anti-sanctuary groups cite statistics that tend to show that illegal immigrants commit crimes and create unsafe conditions where they congregate in large numbers. I could not find conclusive evidence supporting either position.
* The murder of Kate Steinle by alleged murderer Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez illustrates the complexity of the sanctuary problem. Lopez-Sanchez had been convicted of numerous felonies and deported multiple times. Local authorities requested his transfer from federal prison into their custody to stand trial on a minor marijuana possession charge. San Francisco authorities ended up dismissing that charge, and released Lopez-Sanchez
even though federal agents had specifically asked that he be returned to their custody. After his release he allegedly murdered Kate Steinle.
* Federal authorities insist that they do not intend to take all undocumented immigrants into custody. They have declared that they are only interested in those convicted or accused of serious criminal conduct. On the other hand, many officials from sanctuary jurisdictions refuse to cooperate with federal agencies on any cases.
For me the central issue is the “rule of law.” Both sides on this issue can point to tragic circumstances and outcomes. However, that does not give any individual or group the right to violate federal law, or to “pick and choose” which laws they will enforce or obey. Much of the confusion was created by the Obama administration’s failure to enforce those laws that it didn’t like. My oath of office didn’t contain any “exceptions” for laws I didn’t like. Neither do the oaths of law enforcement officers and public officials. If a law is wrong it should be repealed or amended. Until that is done it must be obeyed and enforced. How else can we be one nation governed “under law?”