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The term “sanctuary city” is often used incorrectly to describe trust acts or community policing policies that limit
entanglement between local police and federal immigration authorities. These policies make communities safer
and increase communication between police and their
residents without imposing any restrictions on federal
law enforcement activities.
What is a “sanctuary city,” and where did that term come
Currently there are 326 counties, 32 cities and four
states which limit local law enforcement's involvement
in federal immigration enforcement.
The phrase “sanctuary city” was born out of a church-centered movement in the 1980s. During that time, thousands of Central American refugees came to the United
States seeking protection from civil wars, and many were
denied asylum. Churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions banded together to oppose the return
of these refugees to the countries where they had been
persecuted, and this became known as the Sanctuary
The term “sanctuary city” is a misnomer when used to
describe community policing policies which attempt to
eliminate fear from those who worry that reporting a
crime or interacting with local law enforcement could result in deportation. Some have confused “sanctuary
city” policies with the notion that immigrants in these
communities are insulated from any immigration enforcement action against them. In fact, nothing in a so-called sanctuary city policy prevent federal enforcement
actions. Some cities and localities—including San Francisco—have used the term “sanctuary” in their community policing policies in solidarity with the movement of
Why do localities, cities, and states adopt community
policing or trust laws?
Several hundred state and local police departments
across the country have enacted community policing
policies because they make communities safer and help
ensure that law enforcement officers do not run afoul of
the law by detaining persons they do not have legal authority to hold (i.e., in violation of the constitutional requirements of the Fourth Amendment).
Of the hundreds of jurisdictions with such policies, all
but six were enacted after 2011. These policies were
largely in response to a program called Secure Communities, which the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) had fully operationalized by 2012. Under Secure
Communities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE), a division of DHS, began getting fingerprints for
every individual as soon as they were booked and taken
into custody by state and local law enforcement. As a result of this information sharing between local law enforcement and ICE, many undocumented immigrants
were taken into immigration custody and deported
under Secure Communities. The program shattered trust
between immigrant and other community members who
feared that interactions with the police could expose
their loved ones and neighbors to the risk of deportations. Although Secure Communities
was discontinued in November 2014 and replaced with
the Priorities Enforcement Program (PEP), the practice
of sharing of fingerprints at the time of booking continues under PEP. Consequently, ICE has information about
noncitizens who enter the criminal justice system and is
able to make decisions — with or without the involvement of local law enforcement— about whether to pursue immigration enforcement.
How do policing policies make communities safer?
Community policing policies encourage all members of
the community, including immigrants, to work with the
police to prevent and solve crime. As Tom Manger, chief
of police for Montgomery county and president of the
Major Cities Chiefs Association, said,
"To do our job we must have the trust and respect of
the communities we serve. We fail if the public fears their
police and will not come forward when we need them.
Whether we seek to stop child predators, drug dealers,
rapists or robbers—we need the full cooperation of victims and witness. Cooperation is not forthcoming from
persons who see their police as immigration agents.
When immigrants come to view their local police and
sheriffs with distrust because they fear deportation, it
creates conditions that encourage criminals to prey upon
victims and witnesses alike."
Law enforcement agencies and associations from
across the country have echoed this sentiment by supporting community policing policies and opposing attempts by the federal government to mandate
immigration enforcement cooperation.
The Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, made
up of more than 30 police chiefs, sheriffs, commissioners, and lieutenants from across the U.S., explained, “
Immigration enforcement at the state and local levels
diverts limited resources from public safety. State and
local law enforcement agencies face tight budgets and
should not be charged with the federal government’s role
in enforcing federal immigration laws.”
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said his city’s community policing policies “have been successful in building
trust and making our city safer,” and have led to a nearly
22 percent reduction in serious violent crime and a 15
percent reduction in serious property crime in Dayton
What does all this have to do with complying with the
In addition to the serious public safety benefits that
community policing policies provide, many communities limit their involvement in immigration enforcement
because the legality of detainers is in question. Under the
Fourth Amendment, a person generally may not be detained without a warrant. Courts have ruled that states
and localities that honor ICE detainers (i.e., ICE requests
to hold a person even though they are otherwise eligible
for release from criminal custody) may be held liable for
Fourth Amendment violations.
Several counties have been forced to pay six-figure settlements to individuals as a result of holding them on detainers longer than 48 hours. As a result, many
jurisdictions require DHS to obtain a judicial warrant to
justify detaining a person for immigration enforcement.
Isn’t immigration enforcement a federal responsibility?
Immigration policies affect a broad range of interests.
As the U.S. Supreme Court noted in Arizona v. U.S., “The
Government of the United States has broad, undoubted
power over the subject of immigration…The federal
power to determine immigration policy is well settled.
Immigration policy can affect trade, investment,
tourism, and diplomatic relations for the entire nation,
as well as the perceptions and expectations of aliens in
this country who seek the full protection of its laws.”
No local or state community policing policy prevents
ICE from enforcing federal immigration laws.
When a law enforcement agency takes a suspect into custody and books him or her, the person’s fingerprints are
sent automatically to ICE, which has ample resources to
investigate and initiate enforcement actions against
noncitizens who fit within the agency's enforcement priorities.
Instead of attempting to micromanage how states and
localities interact with DHS, Congress should get to the
important job of passing immigration reform. There is no
doubt that our nation is safer when everyone is accounted for and fully documented. A major benefit of
comprehensive immigration reform is that every person
in this country would get documents and be “on the
grid” of U.S. life—with driver’s licenses, social security
numbers, and other forms of identification. Rather than
continue to leave millions of immigrant families in a desperate limbo of fear and uncertainty, such a system
would help us make smarter and more strategic decisions about our nation’s safety and security, and in a way
that respects due process.
Allen E Kaye, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Queens College of the City of New York, Columbia Law School (JD)
and New York University Law School (LLM), is the President of the Law Offices of Allen E Kaye and Associates
and Of Counsel to Pollack, Pollack, Isaac and DeCicco.
He is a past National President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Co-Chair of the Immigration Committee of the Queens County Bar
Association. He has been selected by Martindale-Hubbell as a 2014 “Top Rated Lawyer” in the practice
of Labor and Employment (for Immigration) and the
2017 Edition of The Best Lawyers in America.
Questions for publication may be sent to Kaye at 225
Broadway, Suite 307, New York, NY 10007, or by email
at AllenEKaye5858@gmail.com or firstname.lastname@example.org