President Trump was elected based in part on his promise to stem the increasingly unchallenged flow of illegal immigrants into this country. Since taking office he has enacted many measures to do just that. His executive orders have met with legal challenges, some of which have been sustained and some of which have been denied. It remains to be seen how these will ultimately be decided.
Some jurisdictions responded to the President's exercise of his executive authority on immigration by declaring themselves “sanctuary cities” or “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Although there is no single legal definition, generally speaking a “sanctuary city” is one that in practice or by law refuses to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a variety of ways.
Many jurisdictions considered themselves sanctuaries for illegal aliens prior to President Trump’s executive order dealing with immigration. Therefore, one of the key components of that executive order was to withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions. This is a legitimate response to an unlawful attempt by states, cities, and counties to circumvent federal law. And I say this as a person who believes in the power of a limited federal government and a strong local government.
(Of course, not all local jurisdictions want to be known as a sanctuary. Recently, Sheriff Donny Youngblood of Kern County, California has asked the county Board of Supervisors to name Kern County a "law and order" county rather than a sanctuary. By doing this, “he wants to ensure that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers can continue to identify felony detainees in Kern County jails who are in the country illegally so that they can be deported upon release.”)
There are a multitude of problems with “sanctuary cities.” I’ll touch on two.
First, an attempt to circumvent federal authority on this issue directly violates the constitutional principles on which this country was founded. Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution “gives Congress exclusive authority to ‘establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization’…. The states have no authority in these areas at all.” Under this power, Congress delegated to the president extremely broad authority under 8 U.S.C.
§ 1182(f) to suspend the entry of any aliens or class of aliens into the U.S. if the President believes it “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
Thus, the states and cities attempting to circumvent federal law on this subject are likely to be in violation of federal authority. At the least they are promoting disorder and lawlessness by their policies. This harms everyone, particularly those in immigrant communities, where crimes by immigrants preying on other immigrants are prevalent. At the most, they are inviting criminals into their communities.
Second, sanctuary cities will become magnets for criminals. The disorder and lawlessness inherent in a community refusing to follow federal law leads directly to one of the other primary consequence of designated sanctuary cities – the fact that designating a place as a “sanctuary” for illegal aliens will – surprise! – attract lawbreakers.
A high-profile example of this tragically occurred in July 2015 when Kate Steinle was murdered in San Francisco, a sanctuary city, by an illegal alien. The man charged with her killing had seven felony convictions and had been deported to Mexico five times. Not surprisingly, when he returned to the U.S., he headed for a sanctuary city, where he could be confident his illegal status would not be challenged.
When the Maryland state legislature was considering a bill to designate Maryland a sanctuary state, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins of Frederick County explained the effects of such a move: “Anybody can come into this state, commit a serious crime, a violent crime without any fear of removal. That’s a bad thing, so not only will we become a sanctuary, we will become a magnet for criminal activity.” The Maryland Senate president said that the bill would not pass the Senate, and Maryland's governor said he would veto the bill if it reached his desk.
It should not surprise anyone that designating an area as a “sanctuary” where local authorities openly encourage breaking federal law breeds a culture of lawlessness that makes us all less safe. Our families, friends, and communities deserve better.