The existence, autonomy, and future of sanctuary cities around America have become a hot topic over the last year, as immigration continues to enter the limelight in the political arena. Before examining the future of America’s sanctuary cities however, it is appropriate to define what they actually are:
What is a Sanctuary City?
A sanctuary city is, in simple terms, a place where illegal immigrants (often called ‘undocumented immigrants’) can find sanctuary. But what does this mean in real terms: what protection does a sanctuary city actually provide undocumented immigrants with?
In essence, it all boils down to law enforcement. Police in sanctuary cities do not report crimes committed by illegal immigrants to immigration authorities. Now, this does not mean that they actively stop people being deported: it just means that they will arrest someone who they know is an illegal immigrant, and not inform the appropriate immigration officials.
Cities known as sanctuary cities tend to cut funding to the detection and deportation of undocumented immigrants, preferring to spend federal money on more humanitarian pursuits instead. The philosophy that promotes the existence of sanctuary cities is that America is a nation that was founded by immigrants.
Immigration advocates think sanctuary cities are a good thing, but the concept attracts a lot of controversy; the Kate Steinle shooting, for example, brought national attention to the topic in mid-2016. We are not here to assess the right or wrong of the existence of them, however. Instead, this discussion focuses on the likely future of such cities.
Impact of the Trump Administration on Sanctuary Cities
The beginning of November last year was a shocking time for many Americans, who were astounded by Donald Trump’s unlikely victory during the presidential election.
Throughout his campaign, Trump made it clear that his positions were firmly staked out when it came to illegal immigration. His now infamous campaign slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’ was a populist message that included the idea of building a wall along the America/Mexico border a core item on the ‘to-do’ list.
While sanctuary cities were not discussed in as much detail as other issues, including the wall and the reality of Islamic terrorism, on the campaign trail, Trump’s position was generally understood to be against their existence. This is mostly due to the fact that he promised to strengthen immigration policies, in order to deport the 11 million illegal immigrants residing in the nation.
Low and behold, we are now into May of 2017, and it has become clear that Trump does not support the existence of sanctuary cities. He began rolling out policies on immigration pretty much as soon as he entered office. One such policy involved directing federal funds to the hiring of 5,000 additional border patrol agents, and 10,000 general immigration officers.
On Wednesday January 25th, Trump specifically targeted sanctuary cities when he signed an executive order that intends to cut the federal grants given to such cities. The order declared that any area deemed to be a ‘sanctuary jurisdiction’ by the Department of Homeland Security would not to eligible to receive federal grants. It also directed the Office of Management and Budget to make a list of federal grant money that is currently being awarded to these places, with the apparent intention of monitoring what cuts should be made.
For immigrants and their families, both legal and illegal, a Trump administration will undoubtedly have consequences. However, there is no need to panic, any effects on sanctuary cities resulting from President Trump’s federal budget will not be implemented until 2018. This is the usual time-frame for such presidential actions.
Moreover, the president doesn’t have as much control over federal money as we might assume. Congress is much more powerful when it comes to the budgeting and circulation of government money. While it is true that some federal agencies fall under the authority of the president, the reality is that Trump needs to gain congressional approval for federal funding reform; particularly a reform as drastic as the one he is proposing concerning sanctuary cities.
Additionally, we have already seen how the courts have blocked a number of President Trump’s policies from being implemented. In fact, the courts have seriously impeded the progress of the President’s most high profile immigration action, the travel ban, which aimed to temporarily bar travelers from entering America if they originate from a country that has targeted terrorism towards the US in the past.
Immigration Perceptions and Procedures
In the meantime, immigrants who are undocumented who currently live in America can avail of the numerous immigration services available, that are actually a lot less strict than one might think.
In reality, deportation doesn’t happen immediately. Each immigrant is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and even if they are caught, they aren’t just sent on the nearest mode of transportation back to their country of origin. It quite simply doesn’t work like that – immigrants have the chance to contest their deportation with removal defense.
Instead, they are generally given the opportunity to present their case for being allowed to stay in America at an immigration court. Not only this, but immigration courts are heavily backlogged. Waiting for such a hearing is a lengthy process.
This is the interesting part: you cannot be deported until you get a hearing. Additionally, hiring an experienced immigration attorney to work your case through the hearing can help you ascertain a positive outcome from your case.
As for the Trump administration, it’s too early too tell how sanctuary cities will be affected in the long run. Thus, the future of sanctuary cities, and the future proposed solutions to the question of immigration (both legal and illegal) are uncertain. For the time being, however, requesting a court date as soon as you are detected as being undocumented will prevent you from being deported until you appear at an immigration hearing, giving you the time to hire the right immigration attorney and build your case.
Beeraj Patel, Esq.
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