President Trump’s divisive and bitter threat against “sanctuary cities” ignores the righteous local pushback against failed immigration policy.
PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s executive order threatening to yank funding from so-called “sanctuary cities” is a bitter and divisive sop to his anti-immigration base. The order, signed Wednesday, shows abullying style of leadership that cities and counties, including Seattle and King County, should be prepared to fight vigorously.
The “sanctuary city” label itself is a bit misleading, because the policy behind it is intended to ensure safer communities. Local police in sanctuary cities like Seattle don’t ask people about their immigration status because they are less likely to interact with cops who are seen as de facto border agents.
In picking a fight with these so-called “sanctuary cities,” Trump is picking a fight with most of the country. At least four states, including California, 364 counties and 39 cities nationwide have policies that limit local cooperation with federal immigration detention requests, according to The New York Times.
That’s probably a conservative number. It doesn’t include Seattle, which declared itself a sanctuary city in November, or Burien, which did so this month. Police chiefs in Bellevue and Kirkland recently confirmed their officers also don’t ask about immigration status.
The sanctuary-city movement is a direct response to the failure by Congress to fix the nation’s broken immigration system. Without forward-looking federal leadership, cities are left to pick up the pieces. Trump’s order does nothing to address the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, living, working and contributing to the diversity that strengthens our communities and our values.
And it is inaccurate for Trump to say sanctuary cities are complete safe harbors. The King County Jail, for example, honors some federal detention requests for undocumented immigrants. But the jail requires that those requests include a federal criminal warrant, an extra step that generally applies to more serious cases.
It is unclear if Trump’s sanctuary cities order is an empty threat. It is unconstitutional for the federal government to coerce local governments to enforce federal law. Before pulling federal grants from a sanctuary city like Seattle, Trump may have to show Seattle officers are actively interfering with federal immigration enforcement by not asking for documentation status. Sounds like a big leap.
Seattle, however, should avoid playing Trump’s game by throwing red meat to its liberal constituency. Mayor Ed Murray was hyperbolic in response to Trump’s order, declaring Wednesday “the darkest day in immigration history” since the World War II internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry and preparing his administration to lose “every penny” of the city’s $85 million in federal grants.
The more prudent response is to wait and see what the president does. If grants get pulled, suit up the lawyers and join the fight for federalism. The lawsuit will be huuuuge.