“Sanctuary Cities” and Community Policing

 

A version of the following was written as a backgrounder on the issue of “sanctuary cities,” prepared for a teach-in on the City of Takoma Park’s “sanctuary” ordinance on February 4, 2017. The event attracted more than 350 people. You can download a version of this issue brief as a PDF from this link.

Executive Order on Interior Enforcement

On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that would, in part, punish any local jurisdiction that has adopted certain community policing tactics designed to establish trust between local law enforcement and communities where there is a significant immigrant population.

The executive order included a section tilted “Sanctuary Jurisdictions.” The order stated in part: “It is the policy of the executive branch to ensure, to the fullest extent of the law, that a State, or a political subdivision of a State, shall comply with [federal law having to do with prohibiting jurisdictions from banning communication between local officers and federal immigration officers].” The order directs the Attorney General (AG) to “take appropriate enforcement action against any entity … which has in effect a statute, policy, or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of Federal law” and it directs the AG and Secretary of Homeland Security to ensure that jurisdictions that do not comply are not eligible for federal grants.

Community Policing and Undocumented Immigrants

The term “sanctuary jurisdiction” has no legal or common definition, but states and localities that have some formal or informal policy limiting cooperation between their local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities are often called “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

Many communities with significant immigrant populations have community policing policies to keep local law enforcement agencies out of the business of federal immigration enforcement. In doing so, they seek to build trust between local police and the community—including the immigrant community—so that community members feel they can safely approach police to report a crime or volunteer information about a crime. Public safety of the entire community is placed in jeopardy if immigrants fear the local police because they believe they will be deported.

A 2006 position paper by the Major Cities Chiefs states the problem for police:

Major urban areas throughout the nation are comprised of significant immigrant communities. … Local agencies are charged with protecting these diverse populations…. The reality is that undocumented immigrants are a significant part of the local populations major police agencies must protect, serve and police. Local agencies have worked very hard to build trust and a spirit of cooperation…. If the undocumented immigrant’s primary concern is that they will be deported …, then they will not come forward and provide needed assistance and cooperation.

Continue reading ““Sanctuary Cities” and Community Policing”

Congress Has Abandoned Policy-Making Responsibility for Immigration. So Who’s Making Policy?

US Capitol Building with We are Closed Sign on US American Flag Background Illustration

Updated April 8.

With Congress abandoning its policy-making responsibility for immigration, policy-making initiative now rests with the executive, the states, localities, and the courts.

While Washington has been preoccupied with a fight over the president’s Executive Actions on Immigration, there is more activity on the immigration front than the president’s decrees. That activity is happening in 50 states, and in many more communities.

On March 29, Julia Preston of The New York Times wrote a nice summary of how immigration policy in this country diverges greatly among the states. She contrasts the lives of two undocumented women—one in Washington, which has enacted policies that are welcoming to immigrants, including one allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, and one in Texas, which has brought a lawsuit against the president to stop his immigration executive actions.

In general, states are divided by where immigrants live. States with significant immigrant populations, including significant populations of undocumented immigrants, tend to be more welcoming. The integration of undocumented immigrants is important to them. It is good for their economies. States with smaller immigrant populations tend to be less welcoming, and it is these states that have joined the Texas lawsuit against the president’s welcoming policies.

Continue reading “Congress Has Abandoned Policy-Making Responsibility for Immigration. So Who’s Making Policy?”

Action/Reaction: Public Support, Republican Opposition to Executive Action

The least productive Congress in modern history will leave Washington this week for the holidays. After running the clock out on this Congress without action on immigration reform, Republicans have been predictably furious at President Obama for taking action to mitigate the hardships caused by their lack of action.

Continue reading “Action/Reaction: Public Support, Republican Opposition to Executive Action”

Washington Kicks the Can Down the Road; States Take the Lead

President’s Decision to Delay Executive Action Creates Electoral Challenges

In early September, the President announced he would delay any executive action that would mitigate the failure of Congress to enact immigration reform, providing relief for families being split apart by deportation. The rationale given by the President was that the Central American child refugee crisis has affected the timeline for an announcement on executive action. Mr. Obama told NBC on September 6,

“I want to spend some time, even as we’re getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action… (and) make sure that the public understands why we’re doing this, why it’s the right thing for the American people, why it’s the right thing for the American economy,” Mr. Obama said.

Democratic Senators Urge Obama to Hold Off

Leading up to the decision to spend more time making sure the American people understand why executive action is needed, several Democratic incumbent senators and senatorial candidates in Republican-leaning states—among them Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, Michelle Nunn of Georgia and Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky—had been urging the president to hold off on taking action. They feared such a move would harm their electoral chances. In those states, the Latino electorate is small. The only state where there is a competitive Senate race this year and a significant pool of Latino voters is Colorado. Democratic senators Bill Nelson of Florida, Al Franken of Minnesota, and Independent Angus King of Maine (who caucuses with Democrats) also expressed concerns.

Complicating matters is a turn in public opinion on immigration since the Central American refugee crisis began, with an uptick in the percentage of Americans favoring a focus on border security.

So, regardless of the American people’s understanding of the need for executive action, the political calculation weighed against action prior to the election.

Continue reading “Washington Kicks the Can Down the Road; States Take the Lead”

As Hope for Reform Fades, Administrative Action Becomes More Likely

On June 30, President Obama made remarks in which he criticized the failure of House Republicans to “stand up to the Tea Party in order to do what’s best for the country” and pass an immigration reform bill. He said that he would begin a new effort “to fix as much of the immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.” He directed DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to move resources to the border, and to make additional recommendations by the end of the summer, after which he will adopt those recommendations “without further delay.”

The president made this announcement after he was informed that Republicans would block a vote on an immigration bill at least for the remainder of the year.

Continue reading “As Hope for Reform Fades, Administrative Action Becomes More Likely”