Sanctuary Cities Must Cooperate With Federal Enforcement

By Jan Ting December 2016

The New York Times, December 1, 2016.

Immigration laws, like all laws in the U.S., can be criticized and challenged. But those laws enacted by Congress under the authority of the U.S. Constitution need to be respected and enforced. The defiance by some cities of U.S. immigration law and efforts to impede its enforcement, reflect a deeper questioning of our constitutional processes.

Sanctuary cities became controversial after a series of high-profile crimes were committed against innocent victims by illegal immigrants who had been released from detention by local authorities — without notification to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau of the Department of Homeland Security.

Outrage over the issue may have helped Donald J. Trump get elected, as he denounced and promised to cut off federal funding to sanctuary cities. They were also an issue in the successful re-election campaign of Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who denounced the sanctuary city policy in Philadelphia, in his own state.

It was right for these politicians to critique sanctuary policies: Laws imposed locally for the protection of illegal immigrants interfere with the normal cooperation between law enforcement agencies.

That is why the Department of Justice under Attorney General Loretta Lynch, under pressure from a Republican Congress, notified sanctuary cities that they must be in compliance with 8 USC Section 1373, which prohibits any agency from restraining the exchange of information among federal, state and local agencies regarding the immigration status of any individual. The attorney general warned that sanctuary cities would not receive Justice Department funding in the current 2017 fiscal year if they did not comply. President-elect Trump and the Republican Congress can be expected to attempt to cut other federal funding to sanctuary cities in 2017.

Any prohibition against state and local officers sharing information and cooperating with federal immigration enforcement is a threat to public safety, and should not be supported by federal funding.

Law enforcement agencies have traditionally relied on each other for support and back-up in carrying out their respective missions: It helps build trust and avoid unhappy surprises. Now, more than ever, with law enforcement officers and agencies under both scrutiny and attack, such coordination and cooperation should be facilitated and encouraged.