BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
The term sanctuary city has been widely used in the months following President Donald Trump’s election, leaving many uncertain as to what the term actually means and what a metropolitan area could face due to its being labeled a sanctuary city.
What is a Sanctuary City?
A sanctuary city is one that welcomes undocumented citizens with open doors and, through various policies, protects immigrants from deportation. Sanctuary jurisdictions – cities, counties and states – all have laws, regulations, policies or practices that restrict immigrant enforcement.
These jurisdictions also prohibit agencies from complying with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, which are notices to other law enforcement agencies that ICE intends to assume custody of an illegal immigrant and includes information on their criminal history, immigration violations and alleged threat to public safety.
In 1989, former New York City Mayor Edward Koch made New York City a sanctuary city when he signed an executive order stating that no city officer or employee shall release information to federal immigration authorities unless the officer’s or employee’s agency is required by law to disclose information about an undocumented citizen or the undocumented previously signed a release of information on their status.
“New York City considers itself a sanctuary and we should take pride in saying that,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) said at a recent panel discussion titled “Defending Our Sanctuary City.” “We have put in place, over decades, policies to reinforce the values and contributions of our immigrant communities.”
Since becoming a sanctuary jurisdiction, New York City has not only implemented programs specifically for immigrants, but also extended American-born citizens’ rights to those who migrated to New York, regardless of their legal status. However, since Trump took office, many immigrants have feared that those rights could be challenged. For example, according to the Legal Aid Society, if a person who is not a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident is not granted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) privacy protections and they attempted to seek FOIA while being an illegal immigrant, this could pose a risk of deportation.
One right that has been implemented in the five boroughs that is unlikely to change is the city’s commitment to protect the rights of every student attending public school, regardless of immigration status. And to ensure the safety of those undocumented children, the city’s Department of Education does not ask about or keep record of the immigration status of any student or family member, nor does it grant unlimited access to ICE. The city also does not release student information, unless required by law.
“We take pride in our diversity,” said city Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Immigrant parents, students, principals, teachers and other staff are a part of what makes our schools, and New York City, the amazing, strong, vibrant places they are. Whether you or your family arrived 100 years or 100 days ago, you are New Yorkers and we stand with you.”
While New York City provides protections for all immigrants, Trump has threatened to target sanctuary jurisdictions.
How Trump Could Punish Sanctuary Cities
Less than a week after Trump was inaugurated, he signed an executive order for a proposed ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations and announced his intentions to take further action against illegal immigrants.
“Many aliens who illegally enter the United States and those who overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas present a significant threat to national security and public safety,” the order read. “This is particularly so for aliens who engage in criminal conduct in the United States.
Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.”
Under this order, Trump threatened to not grant federal funds to those cities that do not comply with federal laws.
“The rhetoric of the [president’s] campaign, continued out through today, is very anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, and the president made no bones regarding those districts that were calling themselves sanctuary,” said Lourdes Rosado, the civil rights bureau chief for the state attorney general’s office. “The president has done a good job at convincing people that those jurisdictions are violating federal law and that is not the case.”
Although Trump cannot halt federal funding for assistance programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, subsidized housing vouchers, heating subsidies and food stamps, he can prevent sanctuary cities from discretionary grant funds. These include sewer and water grants that are distributed by the Environmental Protection Agency, grants for justice assistance, police hiring and money to help communities buy equipment for first responders.
The president’s order would target sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate on illegal immigrants and compile a list for the public that would not only provide information on criminal actions by immigrants, but also publicize jurisdictions that ignore or fail to honor detainers.
“Everyone is a deportation priority, not just those who have had serious criminal convictions, said Legal Aid Society civil practice attorney Jona Cosio. “His goal is to punish sanctuary states and localities for not cooperating with federal immigration authorities.”
Earlier this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that all state and local governments seeking Justice Department grants must certify that they are not sanctuary jurisdictions in order to receive the funding.
“Such policies cannot continue,” Sessions said. “They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the streets. I am urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws.”
Since Trump’s recent executive orders, some New York jurisdictions— such as Yonkers, White Plains and Mount Vernon— have been hesitant to risk losing federal funding by protecting immigrants.
However, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that he would sue the Trump administration if the federal government attempts to take action against the city, which gets more than $7 billion per year in federal funding.
Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) announced at an immigration town hall last week that the state Democratic Committee’s Progressive Caucus is asking state lawmakers to support an effort to make New York a sanctuary state.
“Let’s make New York State the first sanctuary state in the country, where immigrants are welcomed, where we fight the unchecked power of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and demand accountability from Customs and Border Protection,” the DCPC said in a statement.
“Where refugees, green card holders, dual citizenship citizens, Muslims from any and all countries stepping out of a plane onto New York State soil are immediately guaranteed their basic civil rights— their human rights— enforced with the full weight of New York legal authority.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org