Federal Crackdown on Sanctuary Cities

Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that The Justice Department will enforce President Trump’s executive order to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities. Under the order, which was announced January 25, 2017, in order to receive federal grants cities must prove that they have complied with federal immigration laws. According to the executive order:

Tens of thousands of removable aliens have been released into communities across the country, solely because their home countries refuse to accept their repatriation. Many of these aliens are criminals who have served time in our Federal, State, and local jails. The presence of such individuals in the United States, and the practices of foreign nations that refuse the repatriation of their nationals, are contrary to the national interest.

The Attorney General contends that protected immigrants in sanctuary cities are often criminals who threaten the safety of U.S. citizens. President Trump has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to publish weekly lists of local authorities refusing to comply with detention requests. But are sanctuary cities legally mandated to comply with federal detention requests, and do these cities really pose a threat to the safety and security of the American people?

The Legality of Sanctuary Cities

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly invoked the dangers of sanctuary cities. Legally, immigration issues fall under federal jurisdiction. Federal law enforcement agencies, specifically agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), can request that state and local officials notify them when a noncitizen is released from custody. However, it is up to state and local law enforcement officials to determine whether or not to comply with those requests from federal officials. “Sanctuary cities” are jurisdictions that choose to protect their residents and foster goodwill between local law enforcement and immigrant communities, instead of automatically complying with federal detainer requests.

Do Sanctuary Cities Pose a Threat to National Security?

The Trump administration claims to be cracking down on sanctuary cities because of the increased threat of violent crimes when local law enforcement protects noncitizens from potential deportation. But do the facts support these statements? In a study published in January, University of California at San Diego professor Tom Wong analyzed crime rates in 608 sanctuary counties alongside similarly populated non-sanctuary counties. The study found that:

  • city lights at nightAn average of 35.5 fewer crimes are committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties
  • The median household income in sanctuary counties is $4,353 higher on average than in nonsanctuary counties
  • Sanctuary counties have, on average, a poverty rate that’s 2.3 percent lower than nonsanctuary counties
  • Unemployment rates in sanctuary counties are 1.1 percent lower on average
  • Sanctuary counties with smaller populations show more pronounced effects

In the end, the decision to comply with federal immigration detainers rests in the hands of state and local governments. Over the following months, we will see how the threat of revoked federal funding affects sanctuary cities.