Trump’s Continued Assault on Sanctuary Cities

One thing I want to continue to make clear is that this exercise is one of self-education. While I’ve kept a keen interest in politics after studying it in college and making a brief career of it afterwards, my purpose here similar to me (hypothetically) trying to get back to the gym after a decade of not working out. As such, there’s a lot of reacquainting that I need to do, and I’m documenting it both for my own benefit and for anyone who finds themselves either in a similar situation, or perhaps is new to this whole thing.

The issue that’s come up involving sanctuary cities is a perfect example. Even though I now live in one, I’d been under the impression that it wasn’t much more than a euphemism. Yet here we are, less than one week into Donald Trump’s presidency, and he’s made it a focal point of an early wave of executive orders. The most disturbing

First, there doesn’t seem to be an official, legal definition of what is and is not a “sanctuary city.” Instead, it’s a term used by politicians for any geographic areas (some are cities, but there are entire states that qualify, like California and Vermont) that don’t fully comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests to turn people suspected of being here illegally over to the government. Now, this gets conflated a lot with perpetrators of crime, since Republicans don’t ever mention sanctuary cities without bringing up every incidence of a crime committed by an illegal immigrant. Crime is still illegal in California. The sanctuary city designation simply applies to people the federal government wants turned over just for being here illegally.

What Trump’s order does (or, more specifically, intends to do) is to block federal grant money from cities, counties, and communities designated as “sanctuaries” for illegal immigrants, with an exception being made for funds “deemed necessary for law enforcement purposed by the Attorney General or the Secretary of Homeland Security.” Press secretary Sean Spicer, using language that is already becoming a familiar excuse for actions Republicans are taking, framed it as a benefit to taxpayers, saying “The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize the disregard for our laws.”

(At this point, I need to mention that New York and California (along with other large, liberal states) contribute far more to the federal government than gets returned. Threatening to withhold money from a state that contributes more than it gets back is like a child attempting to blackmail the parents that give them an allowance.)

But back to the matter at hand. Big-city mayors (who I discussed the importance of yesterday) were quick to push back against the President’s executive order. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that the order “won’t change how we enforce the law.”

De Blasio said that the city has been able to dramatically reduce the crime rate in the nation’s largest city, in part, because relationships the police department has managed to build in immigrant communities. He added that if Trump follows through with the plan it would mean he’s effectively cutting funding from the New York Police Department. An early analysis by NYC officials suggested that about $156 million in federal funding for the NYPD could be impacted.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was similarly defiant, even going so far as to say he’s open City Hall to illegal immigrants if that’s what it took:

“If people want to live here, they’ll live here. They can use my office. They can use any office in this building,’’
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“Washington is advancing the most destructive and un-American threat on America during the campaign,’’ Walsh said. “The latest executive orders and statements by the president are a direct attack on Boston’s people, Boston’s strength and Boston’s values.”

Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, where Trump threatened to send in “Feds” to lower the murder rate, Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, and Ed Lee of San Francisco also reaffirmed their city’s statuses as sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. Also joining in the pushback were Sheriffs, like Jim McDonnell of Los Angeles, Police Chiefs like Kathleen O’Toole of Seattle, and State Attorneys General.

Eric Schneiderman called the president’s actions illegal:
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“The President lacks the constitutional authority to cut off funding to states and cities simply because they have lawfully acted to protect immigrant families,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Local governments seeking to protect their immigrant communities from federal overreach have every right to do so.”

If Schneiderman’s name sounds familiar, he’s the Attorney General of New York that sued Trump for fraud over Trump University. If it doesn’t sound familiar, it probably will, as I’m guessing we’ll be hearing it a lot over the next four years. He’s joined by Bob Ferguson of Washington state, who said in a statement that Trump “raises significant legal issues that my office will be investigating closely to protect the constitutional and human rights of the people of our state.”

I’m far from a constitutional scholar, but there seems to be a legal basis for these threats. In fact, the reason many sanctuaries don’t comply with ICE orders is that courts have ruled that doing so violates the constitution. Compliance, if done illegally, would cost the municipalities money.

There was even a court case on Tuesday where a federal court in Rhode Island said the state violated the constitutional rights of a US citizen by detaining them on ICE orders. So you had a federal agency ordering an immigration hold against a woman who was born in Guatemala but had been a United States citizen since 1995. This is the system cities are supposed to comply with?

But despite all this, Trump is moving forward, because that’s what he does. He continues to use language that paints America’s cities as lawless expanses that need to come to the heel of the federal government – a tactic that would have caused small-government, local-control conservative heads to explode as recently as 8 days ago. But after North Carolina usurped authority from the city of Charlotte with HB2, and after a campaign in which Trump unapologetically pitted “real America” against the cities they depend on economically, this is the new reality.

So, once again I’ll implore those of you reading not to forget your local politicians. Trump is the low-hanging fruit, but as the Tea Party proved, revolutions start from the bottom. Call your mayors. Talk to your state representatives. In California, the legislature is seeking to set up a fund to pay for legal assistance for illegal immigrants. There’s a lot that can be done, and supporting principled Democrats at the local level is a must.

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