Don’t Force ‘Sanctuary Cities’ To Do Fed’s Job

Conservative commentators characterize sanctuary cities as legal apostates, but the principles in practice in sanctuary cities share little with that description. It’s the latest example of the Right’s inability to parse the weeds of reality, seeking to find comforting answers attuned to black and white and good vs. evil.

The word “sanctuary” means a place of refuge and protection, possibly from the law, but also from persecution. Contrary to the idle talk on Fox News, so-called sanctuary cities do not offer a safe-haven to undocumented immigrants who break the law. Beyond basic human compassion and decency, cities adopt sanctuary policies because it is a pragmatic approach to community policing and safety. It’s about how to most effectively enforce laws with limited resources while maintaining healthy relationships with the communities they serve. That’s why we should not force police departments to enforce immigration laws. These are federal laws, it’s the federal government’s job to enforce them.

We have clear legal jurisdictions in the United States. It is the job of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce federal immigration laws, while it is the job of police departments to enforce local and state laws. To ask local police to enforce federal immigration laws is to ask them to betray the trust of the local community.

Undocumented immigrants are less likely to report a crime if they believe it makes them a target for deportation. Even documented immigrants might feel the same, in particular if they have undocumented relatives. Requiring local police to enforce immigration laws makes our streets less safe because of the fear it instills in the community and because it diverts attention away from more serious crimes.

To do their jobs effectively, police need the cooperation of the local population, including people who lack proper documentation. Police officers enforce local and state laws, and they arrest people suspected of breaking these laws regardless of immigration status. If an undocumented immigrant assists the police by reporting a crime, or if they are otherwise going about their daily life abiding by local and state laws, they should not face police harassment over immigration status. This is a burden large-city police departments do not ask for, because they know it’s antithetical to building trust between police officers and immigrant communities.

Contrary to the words of conservative pundits, sanctuary cities do not shield undocumented immigrants from the law. If local police arrest an undocumented immigrant for a crime, and if ICE produces a warrant, in most cases the suspect is turned over to federal officials.

Why would we want it any other way? The practice of sanctuary cities complements checks and balances and delegation of power, a notion for which the Framers shared a few words. The Tenth (“state’s rights”) Amendment reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The federal government has no authority to compel local officials to do their immigration enforcement bidding. Sanctuary cities are a check against the overreach of a powerful federal government, an objective conservatives should laud.

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