States Taking Different Directions on Sanctuary Cities

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States Taking Different Directions on Sanctuary Cities


How should states and cities deal with illegal immigrants?

President Donald Trump has taken a variety of actions on immigration at the federal level. Lawmakers in the states are pondering what they can do on this issue, too. Some cities have declared that they are “sanctuary cities” in an attempt to blunt federal immigration efforts. Legislators in some states are working to counteract these efforts. In other areas, legislators want to see their entire state embrace a sanctuary policy.


The federal government controls immigration. Federal law determines who can enter this country and who cannot. There is a federal agency, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), that enforces immigration law. There is a longstanding U.S. legal doctrine that forbids the federal government from commandeering state resources to enforce federal laws. This was confirmed by a 1997 Supreme Court decision that overturned a federal law mandating that sheriffs perform background checks for gun purchases.


States and cities do not make immigration law, and the federal government cannot compel these law enforcement agencies to do so. City, county, and state law enforcement can cooperate with the federal government on immigration issues in many ways, however, such as informing ICE of detainees’ immigration status or turning over immigrants to ICE upon request.


In sanctuary cities, lawmakers have said that local law enforcement will not cooperate with the federal government’s immigration enforcement. ICE is still free to operate in the city, but if an illegal immigrant is in the city jail, for instance, the city will not inform ICE.


Cities that have sanctuary policies are not breaking federal law. However, these policies have earned the ire of some state legislators. State governments are ultimately in charge of the extent of cities’ lawmaking jurisdiction. In general, if the state mandates cooperation with the federal government, then cities must comply. Or if state governments refuse to provide funds to cities that do not cooperate with ICE, then cities face a fiscal penalty for their policies.


States where legislators are considering bills to prohibit or punish cities refusing to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement include Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.


Other states are moving in the opposite direction. Legislators in California and Maryland are considering bills that would prohibit state and local law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. These bills would take sanctuary city policies and mandate them on a state level.


Do you support sanctuary cities (or sanctuary states)? Or should cities work with the federal government on immigration issues?


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