“Sanctuary City” Laws Become Central Topic Nationwide

A U.S. District Court in Texas has stopped implementation of a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities” in the state and the City of Philadelphia has filed an action against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claiming he has unlawfully withheld grant money from cities that the Department of Justice has deemed sanctuary cities.  The cities of San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles, as well as the State of California, have filed similar suits.

“Sanctuary city” is not defined by law and there is no uniform sanctuary city law across the country (often making enforcement of rules regarding sanctuary cities difficult).  Nevertheless, the overarching theme of most sanctuary city laws and resolutions is a declaration that law enforcement and other government officials will not ask people for information regarding immigration status unless required by law and will not reduce or deny services due to a person’s immigration status.  Several towns and cities have also passed laws stating they will not participate in so-called “287(g) agreements,” in which federal immigration authorities engage in agreements with local police departments and deputize local officers to enforce federal immigration laws.  (For more on 287(g) agreements, please refer to my previous blog post here.)  Finally, several localities have stated they will not hold individuals in detention on behalf of federal immigration officers.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott recently signed into law Senate Bill 4 – colloquially called the “show your papers” law – to prevent local governments in the state from making their own rules regarding enforcement of immigration laws, and expressly authorize all state and local police officers to question any person who is arrested or detained about their immigration status, even if the detention is for a traffic infraction.  It also called for fines for police officers who refused to honor requests by federal immigration authorities to hold an individual for immigration purposes, even if that person would no longer be detained for any reason under state criminal laws.  On August 30, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, seated in San Antonio, halted implementation of the law, stating that it risked violating people’s constitutional rights and discouraging undocumented individuals from assisting law enforcement by reporting crimes.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the city will argue in federal court that the federal government’s attempts to force local police departments to detain individuals for immigration purposes is a violation of the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as it improperly forces the states and local governments to take on the expense of doing the work of enforcing federal immigration laws.

President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, among other Republicans, argue that local governments’ failures to assist in immigration enforcement have led to numerous dangerous undocumented individuals being released from custody, creating public safety concerns.  Several towns and cities with sanctuary city laws have countered that argument by saying that crime has dropped in their cities, and they cannot afford the additional thousands or millions of dollars it costs to detain individuals longer than required by law.

Because President Trump has made border enforcement and stricter immigration laws a priority in the upcoming budget negotiations, this issue will likely receive more scrutiny as Congress and the White House try to reach a spending deal.  As always, we will keep you updated.

If you have questions regarding immigration, please contact me at wcmenard@nmmlaw.com.

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