Feb 19, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump has declared war on sanctuary cities

Illustration of a catapult loaded with a stack of lawsuit papers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Armed with subpoenas, lawsuits and immigration SWAT teams, the Trump administration has declared war on sanctuary cities.

The big picture: President Trump and his administration have used every available tool to try to crack down on local governments that refuse to hold unauthorized immigrants in criminal custody, block immigration agents from working in county jails or deny federal authorities access to immigrants' records.

Where it stands: Just this year, the Trump administration has:

  • Asked the Supreme Court to strike down California's sanctuary laws and filed three additional lawsuits challenging sanctuary-style laws.
  • Suspended Global Entry for New Yorkers, after the state allowed undocumented residents to get driver's licenses. (New York sued in response.)

By the numbers: Immigration and Customs Enforcement has delivered 13 subpoenas demanding information about unauthorized immigrants from local law enforcement in Connecticut, New York, California and Oregon.

  • Former ICE director Thomas Homan told Axios that during his 34 years working in immigration enforcement, DHS never had to subpoena another law enforcement agency.
  • Most of the information being subpoenaed is already available to ICE through the FBI, John Sandweg, former ICE director under President Obama, told Axios. The move is "symbolic of how deep the relationships between DHS and state and local law enforcement has broken down," he said.
  • 100+ Customs and Border Protection agents, some with special technical training, are being dispatched to help ICE agents with arrests in certain cities.
  • "It takes a lot more resources when you lose the efficiency of working inside the jail or getting called to the jail to pick [unauthorized immigrants] up," Homan said.

How we got here: Trump signed an executive order shortly after taking office that called for cutting off federal grants to sanctuary cities, but that move was blocked by federal courts.

  • Last year, however, a federal appeals court allowed the administration to prioritize localities that cooperate with immigration enforcement when it distributes community policing grants.

What they're saying: Proponents argue that sanctuary cities allow law enforcement officials to focus on serious crimes, and say they make it easier for unauthorized immigrants to report crimes without fearing deportation.

  • Opponents say the policies lead to more non-criminal unauthorized immigrants being arrested, because ICE agents go out into communities rather than focusing on immigrants in jail.
  • "If you really do care about the immigrant community, let us in the jail," Homan said.

What's next: The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to hear the dispute between the Trump administration and California.

  • If it does, Trump will be up against a 1997 precedent in which the court ruled the federal government can't force state or local governments to enforce federal laws.
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