Donald Trump’s election signals the beginning of a potentially terrifying new era for immigrants across this country. His campaign focused on building a wall on the Mexican-US border, banning Muslim immigrants, investing in mass deportation, and attacking the cities and jurisdictions that currently offer sanctuary to immigrants. His transition suggests he plans to follow through with many of these threats to devastate immigrant communities. Pro-immigrant cities, counties, and states need to be ready to face these threats, particularly his intention to dramatically ramp up immigration enforcement and to cut funding from jurisdictions with “sanctuary” policies that shelter immigrant communities from the most abusive aspects of enforcement.
The case for sanctuary is straightforward. Cities and states where immigrants live know too well the devastation to families and communities wrought by dragnet mass deportation policies. Moreover, when immigrants see local police as the gateway to immigration detention and deportation, they stop cooperating as witnesses and victims of crimes. As the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association has explained, that makes everyone less safe.
Trump has made clear, however, that he is less interested in creating safe and humane communities than in the political points he can score by vilifying immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists.” The pressure, then, will be on cities and states to stand up for immigrant communities and make clear they will have no part in Trump’s regime of fear and insecurity. The best way forward: adopting a complementary set of sanctuary policies that disentangle local criminal justice systems from immigration enforcement, limit data-sharing with federal immigration authorities, and ensure legal representation for immigrants facing deportation.
In addition to these defensive strategies, local and state leaders must also go on the offense wherever possible and articulate a pro-immigrant agenda that demonstrates what progressives stand for: keeping families together, fostering community, and embracing opportunity for all. In what follows, we lay out how cities and states can defend and create strong sanctuaries that advance this inclusive vision.
1. Limiting Cooperation with ICE
The first step for cities and states is to limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—and, where they have already restricted such cooperation, to strengthen these efforts. In 2014, hundreds of localities around the country chose to end or substantially limit cooperation with a federal program called Secure Communities (which was then rebranded as the Priority Enforcement Program). The program redirects routine criminal fingerprint queries sent by local law enforcement agencies to the FBI (before people have been convicted of anything) and sends them to ICE, which in turn checks to see if the person has violated US immigration law. ICE then requests that local law enforcement facilitates that person’s transfer into the agency’s custody. Those transferred are then taken to ICE detention, after which many are then returned to their countries of origin and separated from their families in the US.
Thus far, unable to stop the FBI from redirecting fingerprint queries, many cities, counties, and states simply refuse to work with ICE to facilitate such transfers from their jails. They do so for two reasons: first, federal courts ruled that holding people in jail without cause under these programs violates their constitutional rights. Second, the nexus between ICE and local police and jails undermines public safety.