17 Nov 2016

Action Item: Let's make Traverse City a "Sanctuary City"

Submitted by editor

As part of his shock-treatment plan for the U.S. federal government during the first 100 days of a Trump administration, the president-elect has effectively declared war on "sanctuary cities." That's the common term for American cities that have decided not to put their cops to use enforcing immigration.

Mayor Hodges isn't cowed by Trump's threat. In a statement published on Saturday, the freshman mayor says the real estate scion doesn't understand the implications of turning the Minneapolis Police Department into the Extended Border Patrol, Upper Midwest Division.

"Witnesses and victims of crimes won't come forward if they think our police officers will question or detain them about their immigration status," Hodges says. "Our ordinance has helped us solve crime and keep communities safer."

Hodges says Trump's vow to yank funds out from under metropolitan budgets is part of his "quest to scapegoat immigrants," and won't work to change the city's policy.

Under the city's ordinance, Minneapolis law enforcement officers are not to "take any law enforcement action" for the sole purpose of finding undocumented immigrants, or ask an individual about his or her immigration status.

"If Congress follows through on President-elect Trump’s threat to cities, they will have our hardworking officers bear the brunt of their own obstructionism," Hodges says. "The complete failure of President-elect Trump's allies in Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform should not be borne by our local police officers who already have a tough job to do."



In the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president, a student group at the University of Michigan has organized protests to demand that the university make itself a “sanctuary campus” for illegal immigrants and make accommodations for minority students. The group also claimed that campus security officers should not be trusted because police unions endorsed Trump. They stated that entrusting the police to look out for minorities was "an act of violence."


The Push for "Sanctuary Cities"

One of the many consequences of the latest U.S. presidential election has been a renewed movement seeking to declare various communities across the country as “sanctuary cities.” But what does that mean?

Surprisingly, there is no official legal definition for what constitutes a “sanctuary city.” This expression usually refers to U.S. cities whose local governments have adopted a policy of non-cooperation with federal authorities in the enforcement of immigration laws. These policies are sometimes formal, such as a city ordinance, and other times informal, such as a resolution or declaration.

Often, it involves instructing local law enforcement to not ask individuals about their immigration status. Other “sanctuary cities” go a step further, and command local law enforcement to refuse (when requested by federal authorities) to detain undocumented immigrants who are not suspected of committing a crime.

A few complications exist. First, immigration laws are federal laws, and their enforcement is solely within the scope of federal immigration authorities. So whether or not local authorities are willing to “cooperate,” sanctuary cities certainly cannot “prevent” or “stop” the feds from enforcing immigration laws if they choose to do so.

At the same time, because U.S. immigration laws are so complex, it is fair to assume that local and state law enforcement personnel are simply not qualified to unilaterally determine whether an individual is in the U.S. legally or without documentation. From that perspective, adopting a local policy of “staying out of immigration matters” may be a sensible step; local governments strapped for funding arguably should not be detaining anyone without probable cause to believe that the individual committed a crime.

Which brings an important point: because immigration laws are civil in nature, a person’s mere unlawful presence in the United States without proper documentation is NOT a crime but rather a civil violation. There is limited need for a community to declare itself a “sanctuary city” if local law enforcement is following the U.S. Constitution, and not detaining people without probable cause.

Declaring itself a “sanctuary city” may also have the unintended effect of attracting greater attention from federal authorities, as it implies that each such city has a large undocumented population. And, unfortunately, it is too easy to imagine over-zealous U.S. citizens who may take it upon themselves to begin reporting “suspicious” individuals, which would probably translate into racial stereotyping and targeting of persons simply because of how they look.

Interesting times, we live in.