Sanctuary Cities vs. Community Policing: A Resurging Debate

Written by on October 26, 2015 in Interior Enforcement, State and Local with 0 Comments
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From Washington, D.C. to San Francisco to Raleigh, the debate over whether local law enforcement officers should be involved in enforcing federal immigration law is back at the fore.

In the past several years, many local and state governments adopted “trust acts” or community policing policies that limited local law enforcement’s entanglement in federal immigration enforcement. These policies were adopted largely in response to Secure Communities, a program whereby Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) collected fingerprints for every individual booked and taken into custody by state and local law enforcement. ICE then would issue detainer requests – requests to hold a person even though they are otherwise eligible for release from criminal custody – and as a result, many undocumented immigrants were taken into immigration custody and deported.

Secure Communities shattered trust between immigrant and other community members who feared that interactions with the police could expose their loved ones and neighbors to the risk of deportation. As the New Jersey Star Ledger put it, “Using local police for immigration enforcement alienates entire populations, whose people would not report crimes or interact with cops out of fear they’d deport their husband or son.” Therefore, in the interest of community safety, more than 350 state local jurisdictions decided that federal immigration authorities should focus on immigration law and that local law enforcement should remain focused on local law.

Despite the progress made to disentangle local and federal authorities, some lawmakers are attempting to roll back the clock and tie the two back together. In fact, last week, the Senate voted on whether to proceed on a bill introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) that attempts to punish so-called “sanctuary cities”—i.e., cities with trust acts—by taking away millions of dollars in federal funding from any city, state or county that does not fully comply with ICE detainer  and notification requests. The bill died on the Senate floor, after failing to obtain the 60 votes needed to move forward.

Also, this month, state legislators in North Carolina passed H.B. 318, an anti-immigrant law that, among other things, ends existing local policies limiting ICE detainer requests.

On the flip side, in an effort to protect their long-standing policy of declining to hand over its residents to ICE, the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors reaffirmed the city’s commitment to community policing, last week. Supervisor David Campos introduced a resolution “urging San Francisco not to participate in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Priority Enforcement Program.” The Priorities Enforcement Program is the new iteration of the Secure Communities Program, which was technically discontinued in November 2014.

It is likely that that in the coming months additional measures and bills will be pursued at the local and federal level that weigh the pros and cons of community policing vs. active involvement in federal immigration enforcement. Like San Francisco, it is likely other local lawmakers will reject policies that re-entangle their local law enforcement officers with immigration enforcement.

Photo by City of Wyllie.

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