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Three Things You Should Know … Sanctuary Cities

Is the Administration withholding COVID relief dollars from sanctuary cities? Here are three things you need to know.

You’ve probably heard a lot about so-called sanctuary jurisdictions in recent weeks. These are cities, counties, or states that have passed laws, policies, or practices that obstruct federal immigration enforcement. Jurisdictions can refuse to share immigration status with federal officers, deny ICE access to detention centers or case information, or impede other communication networks.

Because we know this topic is crowding your news feed right now, we’re cutting through the noise – here are three things you maybe didn’t know.

1. No legal meaning

“Sanctuary city” is not an official government term. It has no legal meaning. The federal government relies heavily on local law enforcement to identify and detain immigrants.

But, local police departments aren’t required to help the federal government, and since immigration law is federal law, catching unauthorized immigrants might not be a local law enforcement priority.

Many experts believe that enforcing local cooperation with ICE is detrimental for communities, as immigrants become afraid of police and become less likely to report crimes or cooperate with investigators to solve cases.

2. Recent Crackdown

The Trump administration has taken serious action against sanctuary jurisdiction. In January 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that threatened to withhold federal funds from cities that declined to assist federal action to deport certain immigrants.

In March 2018, the Justice Department sued California over three newly passed state laws aimed at obstructing federal immigration enforcement. In February 2020, the DoJ again sued jurisdictions in several U.S. sanctuary states for not assisting ICE.

In February 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declared its objection of New York State’s “Green Light Law”, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. In response, the DHS announced that it will no longer allow New York state residents to re-enroll in programs that expedite international travel such as Global Entry, FAST or NEXUS.

Also in February 2020, the U.S. Border Patrol began deploying elite tactical agents to sanctuary cities. The specially trained officers are highly militarized and are being sent to cities including Chicago and New York to boost the enforcement power of local ICE officers.

In April, the Trump Administration threatened to send detained immigrants to sanctuary cities, increasing the risk to COVID-19 exposure for cities that don’t align with the Administration’s immigration views. At the end of April, President Trump renewed threats to withhold COVID-19 relief funding to sanctuary cities.

3. Washington D.C. is a Super-Sanctuary

Because Washington D.C. and its two neighboring states – Maryland and Virginia – have numerous sanctuary jurisdictions, the DMV is considered a super-sanctuary. Since the 1980s, Washington D.C. has been a staunch supporter of immigrant rights. In October 2019, the D.C. Council unanimously passed emergency legislation that would further limit the city’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

For the 2020 fiscal year, the D.C. government awarded $2.5 million in grants to assist immigrant legal aid services and resources, and two Maryland cities, Hyattsville and Takoma park, allow undocumented immigrants to vote in local elections.

Because D.C.’s funding depends, in large part, on federal funding, it’s often difficult to maintain the spirit of a sanctuary city. For example, D.C.’s Superior Court is funded and staffed by the U.S. Marshall service, a federal entity, the only such arrangement in the country.

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