“Sanctuary” Policies Protect Communities, Not Criminals

State by state “sanctuary” policies have received significant attention lately. Hundreds of communities across the nation have passed some version of a sanctuary policy and in doing so have made decisions about how they want to use their local resources. Yet the new administration, as well as others, are attempting to impede their ability to have local control over their communities and are incorrectly criticizing them as safe havens for criminals.

It’s important to understand that sanctuary policies take many forms including limiting local compliance with federal detainers; restricting the ability of police to make arrests for federal immigration violations; prohibiting 287(g) agreements; refusing to enter into a contract with the federal government to hold immigrants in detention; or restricting immigration enforcement in sensitive locations like hospitals and schools.

Localities that pursue these policies are often criticized for being soft on unauthorized immigration, yet none of these policies conceal or shelter unauthorized immigrants from deportation or prosecution for criminal activities. In fact, jurisdictions that have sanctuary policies still cooperate with federal immigration officials in a variety of ways including by sending federal immigration agencies the fingerprints of any person—including an immigrant—booked into a prison or jail through the Secure Communities program.

These sanctuary policies are not pursued in an effort to deter law enforcement bur rather to strengthen resident-police relations and ensure that all people feel comfortable reporting crimes, regardless of immigration status. When local law enforcement is seen as immigration enforcement, community trust is lost.

In an effort to have local control over local resources, several state governors have taken action in opposition to federal attempts to expand the role of local police in immigration enforcement including:

  • The Governor of Oregon who signed an executive order stating that no state agency may use moneys, equipment, or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws, except as required by federal or state law or as otherwise authorized by the Governor or her designee.
  • The Governor of Washington who signed an executive order blocking state law enforcement agencies from detaining anyone solely on the basis of immigration status or at the request of federal officials. It also blocks state agencies from discriminating against, or refusing service, to unauthorized immigrants.
  • Connecticut Governor Malloy who instructed law enforcement in his state not to comply with ICE and told school officials to design response plans to implement if ICE appears at the school.
  • New York’s Attorney General who released guidance to local law enforcement on participation in immigration enforcement. It recommends that local police should not engage in activities with the sole purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws or honor detainers absent a judicial warrant.

State legislative efforts towards the same end goal include:

  • California’s “Values Act” which would prohibit state and local police from spending money on federal law enforcement. It would also ban immigration enforcement in schools, health care facilities, and courthouses.
  • Maryland’s “Trust Act” which would bar police from complying with federal detainers, prohibits police from making immigration arrests, and ban immigration enforcement in schools, hospitals, and courthouses.
  • New Mexico’s HB116 which ensures state funds are spent on protecting communities from violent crimes and not on federal immigration enforcement.

On the anti-sanctuary side, bills have also been introduced in many states including Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, KansasNorth Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. In Arizona, Georgia, and Iowa, bills have been passed out of committee,  and in Mississippi an anti-sanctuary bill passed out of the state legislature in the  House . In several other states, bills that include provisions to hold local officials liable for crimes that occur in sanctuary cities have been introduced including:

  • Colorado’s HB1134 which in addition to prohibiting sanctuary cities, would allow victims of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants to sue local officials;
  • Pennsylvania’s SB10 which would allow certain people to sue municipalities over their sanctuary policies;
  • SB4 in Texas would charge local officials who violate this law with a misdemeanor;
  • Virginia’s SB1262 would make sanctuary cities liable for injuries caused by unauthorized immigrants.

We are likely to see the debate over sanctuary policies continue, making it even more important that our leaders have the facts and are well-informed before making decisions that impact people’s lives.

Photo by Code for America.

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