Throughout his campaign President Trump consistently took a strong stance in favor of harsh immigration policies. Although his campaign promises were notably vague, he followed through on this general stance by issuing an executive order on January 25 that, among other things, aimed to restrict federal grant funding to “sanctuary cities.” Within days of him signing this executive order, the City of San Francisco sued for constitutional overreach and several other cities have since followed suit. On April 25, U.S. District Judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California blocked Trump’s executive order, citing overgeneralization and executive overreach.
Sanctuary cities have been in the national spotlight since 2015 after Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented man who had been deported five times previously, shot and killed 31-year-old Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco. Since then, funding cuts from sanctuary cities have been at the center of many political campaigns and at the forefront of immigration policy.
One important piece of this debate is that there is no clear consensus as to what defines a “sanctuary city.” Broadly speaking, it is a local jurisdiction that in varying degrees chooses to limit its cooperation with federal immigration authorities, thus providing a safe haven for immigrants who might otherwise be subject to legal proceedings through the immigration courts or even, in some cases, deportation. Brookings estimates that there are around 600 localities with some degree of sanctuary status, as well as dozens of self-proclaimed sanctuary cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, and New York. These cities often receive large amounts of federal grants, some in the billions, and would suffer greatly from the enforcement of Trump’s executive order.
The Trump administration has argued that sanctuary cities pose a threat to national security and public safety. Those in opposition to the order have argued that sanctuary cities are actually safer than non-sanctuary jurisdictions, and immigrants are statistically no more likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. In fact, many argue that requiring local law enforcement to carry out federal policies would limit the trust between law enforcement and the immigrant communities they serve, by discouraging immigrants from reporting local crime for fear of their own deportation.
Following Judge Orrick’s decision, Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised to continue the administration’s fight for stricter immigration enforcement, saying “[t]his is the Trump era. This will be the administration that fully enforces our nation’s immigration laws.” An appeal of this ruling is likely inevitable, leaving many immigrants with feelings of insecurity about their own cities and whether local law enforcement will have the means to protect them. Politicians from both sides of the aisle and all levels of government have vowed to continue this debate, promising a long and uncertain road ahead. For more information on sanctuary cities or questions about immigration policy generally, please contact an attorney at Stilwell & Slatton Immigration.