04 Mar Sanctuary Cities and Federal Funding
A ‘sanctuary’ city is neither a dictionary term nor a designated definition for the reason which it is being used in the US currently. It simply implies a city (in North America) whose municipal laws try protecting illegal/ undocumented immigrants from getting deported or prosecuted. This protection is provided despite the existence of ‘federal immigration law.’
The presence of sanctuary cities is abundant in the country. It is noted that there are approximately,
- 39 cities (including Las Vegas, Tucson, New York, Boston, and Chicago) and,
- 364 counties (mainly in California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Oregon, and Washington)
with sanctuary policy as per November 2016 data.
The Trump administration, trying to fulfill its campaign promises, was determined to bring down the provision of federal funds being provided to these sanctuary cities. The take on the issue was that these principles according to which Congress and the states independently decide how to spend their money are worth avoiding; when talked about the threats due to illegal immigrants. A large section of the country, which can presently be called Trump administration supporters, consider unlawful immigrants a threat to the country.
Also, the Department of Justice mandates that federal fund recipients must comply with all the federal laws.
Sanctuary cities, by not giving immigration status information to the federal government, do not come under this law and thus do not and will not get federal funds. However, as per a 2017 Cato Institute report, undocumented immigrant adults as compared to US-born Americans are half likely to commit serious crimes.
For instance, Texas has a large number of illegal immigrants in comparison to sanctuary cities. Here the rate of arrest and/ or conviction of undocumented immigrants was much below that of US-born citizens considering all serious crimes.
President Donald Trump, on 25th January 2017 had ruled the Executive Order 13768 by the name Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. The order read that ‘sanctuary jurisdictions’ that denied complying with federal immigration laws would not be eligible to receive federal funds. But an indisputable fact which remains here is that sanctuary policies are legal and protected by the Tenth Amendment (1971) of US constitution. It separates the federal and state powers. The Amendment prevents the federal unit of the government from intervening state/ local governments to use their resources to obligate a federal regulatory program, say, for example, immigration. And thus, this implies that Congress cannot mandate state/ local governments to collect and share the immigration status information with it. Thus, the court had ruled Trump’s executive order as unconstitutional.
The administration’s public safety argument on sanctuary cities was considered baseless, and it was said that such an attempt of barring funds to them will not guarantee safer cities. A new angle to the issue had come a few months later after Trump’ executive order. The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions in July 2017 said that cities that wanted to avail law enforcement funds had to comply with new requirements. This was to be held under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. The criteria demanded to allow immigration officials access to any detention facility and informing them at least 48 hours in advance on the release of an immigrant. It was also noted that these cities had to comply with Section 1373 of the US code. The code says that federal, state or local governments may not limit the exchange of information with federal immigration officials.
However, the court in 2018 overruled it after Chicago filed a lawsuit against this ruling. The court held it unconstitutional and said that the executive was trying to exercise the non- granted powers. Over the decades, laws concerning sanctuary cities have seen several changes. The arguments like ‘Tenth Amendment’ and ‘Jeff Sessions’ rulings will keep arising in a loop until the very fundamental issue of illegal immigrants is thoroughly checked upon. The country is likely to face immigration issues, almost always. Once the country overcomes the ensured screening of illegal immigrants who are probable threats, the question of sanctuary cities can also be concluded.