By Joe Guzzardi
July 15. 2016
This week, Washington sent a rare good news message to Americans that want tighter immigration law enforcement. Shortly after the Senate blocked a GOP-sponsored bill to withhold economic and community development grant money from cities that harbor illegal immigrants, the Justice Department promised to financially punish sanctuary cities that fail to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In its announcement, the DOJ alerted cities that they must certify under oath that their laws do not interfere “in any way” with federal authorities’ requests for immigration information or risk losing Justice Assistance Grants and State Criminal Alien Assistance Program awards. The federal funding provides hundreds of millions of dollars annually to local law enforcement. In the last five years, U.S. cities have received more than $3.4 billion.
Sanctuary cites which, despite a 1996 immigration law that specifically prohibits them, have grown to about 300 in recent years, and vaulted into the headlines last year. On July 1, the San Francisco sheriff’s department released Mexican national Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a five-time deported, seven-time convicted criminal alien. Lopez-Sanchez shot and killed Kate Steinle a few days later. ICE had issued a deportation hold on Lopez-Sanchez, but the sheriff’s office ignored it.
The DOJ memorandum set off another round of furious debate. Immigrant rights organizations expressed outrage and contended that local police shouldn’t be involved in federal immigration matters.
The American Civil Liberties Union, among others, illogically argue that sanctuary cities foster greater cooperation between the community and the police, and therefore create a safer environment for all residents. The ACLU dismissed possible police conversations with suspects about their immigration status as “irrelevant interrogations.”
Senate Minority leader Harry Reid also weighed in. Reid said that punishing sanctuary cities can be directly tied to GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump’s demonizing of illegal immigrants.
But U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), Chair of the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee on Appropriations, hailed the DOJ’s new guidelines. In his press release, Rep. Culberson wrote that sanctuary cities are hubs for illegal aliens and criminal activities that repeatedly end in tragedy. Rep. Culberson noted that more than a year has passed since Steinle’s murder at the hands of a deportable alien who admitted he moved to San Francisco because the city promised him and other illegal immigrants that they would not be referred to ICE. Sanctuary cities, Rep. Culberson concluded, result in intolerable and “completely preventable violence and suffering.”
Although the DOJ’s action may not be a direct response to America’s anger over sanctuary policies, polling shows that the public is disgusted with lax enforcement. A Rasmussen survey of probable voters found 62 percent want the DOJ to get tough toward cities that provide illegal immigrants’ safe haven. Because of the DOJ pronouncement, cities will now have to choose between protecting criminal aliens and obstructing ICE or receiving federal funding.
Time will tell what may come of the DOJ advisory, but the first test case likely will not be until the next administration takes office. In the meantime, during the Trump-Clinton head-to-head, defining the DOJ’s role in sanctuary cities will be one of the election’s most contentious debates.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19