Hammering Sanctuaries with Lawsuits

By Dan Cadman on July 24, 2015

The astounding number of sanctuary locations identified by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and revealed by the Center for Immigration Studies could not have been better timed to make a difference for victims and their families all over the nation, coming as it did when attention was focused on the murder of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco at the hands of an illegal alien. It has forced a public reckoning of a shameful but open secret about how many state and local governments have been free to thumb their noses at federal immigration authorities.

Many of those jurisdictions — San Francisco is one of them — are unrepentant even when something horrible happens. Ms. Steinle's murder was not the first to take place there at the hands of an illegal alien. A man and his two sons were brutally killed several years ago, but rather than take responsibility, the city-county continued on its misguided path.

At least one solution to the sanctuary problem has always been hiding in plain sight. The federal statute that makes it a felony to smuggle or transport aliens also penalizes harboring or shielding aliens who are in the United States in violation of law. The statute, which can be found at Title 8 of the U.S. Code, Section 1324, makes no exception for state or local officials, including law enforcement personnel. They are as vulnerable to prosecution for violating the statute as anyone. It might even be reasonably argued that law enforcement officers and other state and local officials should be held to a higher standard of conduct than the average man. One cannot imagine a more clear-cut case to be made than in the extraordinary actions taken by San Francisco officials to shield Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez (the confessed killer of Ms. Steinle) from the reach of immigration agents, and to be sure he was returned to the streets in the days and weeks leading up to the murder.

Now, do I think that such officials will in fact be prosecuted by the federal government under the Obama administration? I do not. I simply raise the possibility. If state or local officials were prosecuted once, just once, it would send the loudest possible message about the folly of attempts to obstruct federal law through sanctuary policies.

Failing a prosecution, however, a variety of politicians have belatedly leaped into the fray to introduce bills in Congress that would punish sanctuary cities by taking away federal funds of one sort or another, although many of these self-same politicians have been aware of, and indifferent to tackling, sanctuary policies until now, with the needle tilted strongly toward the "outrage" setting on the meter of public opinion. (A weak defunding bill passed the House this week.)

We at CIS have expressed our concern that some of these bills will be ineffectual; some may be worse than ineffectual by actually dissuading law enforcement agencies that now uniformly cooperate with immigration enforcement efforts.

But at least the number of serious crimes committed by aliens, most particularly including murder, is now getting the public airing it deserves instead of being hidden in the closet like a dirty family secret no one wants to talk about because it's somehow politically incorrect and embarrassing — which reaction is, in itself, deeply embarrassing. Few other nations in the world would try to gloss over such shocking criminality and try to silence the victims (including society's most vulnerable such as women and children or ethnic and racial minorities) for fear it will somehow damage the ongoing "progressive" narrative of multiculturalism at any cost.

For individuals of a certain mindset, it's an easy position to take as long as the pain of that cost is not borne by you or a member of your family, I suppose. Some of that disgraceful mindset was on display at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing held on July 21 entitled "Oversight of the Administration's Misdirected Immigration Enforcement Policies: Examining the Impact on Public Safety and Honoring the Victims".

A number of law enforcement organizations have stopped honoring detainers out of fear of lawsuits, even at the risk of inappropriate release of alien criminals back into our communities. Advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have led the charge, looking specifically for flawed examples of detainers filed (such as erroneously against U.S. citizens) in order to bring suits aimed at intimidating police and sheriff offices. In fact, the ACLU has sent heavy-handed letters to enforcement agencies all over the country threatening such suits.

One way to curb this trend is to put such agencies between the hammer and the anvil. Victims and families of the murdered must begin filing lawsuits that are just as aggressive at halting law enforcement from releasing alien criminals as there have been by advocacy groups bent on dismantling immigration enforcement.

Recently, an attorney in private practice in the Carolinas, alarmed at the trend he has seen develop, took the time to write to the Center to suggest that such victims look specifically at Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 1983 when considering tort actions based on sanctuary laws or policies. It says this in pertinent part (emphasis added):

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.


Because the statute refers specifically to depriving individuals of their rights (which, of course, includes the right to life) under color of law, the attorney believes, and I agree, that it appears to be directly applicable to the situation of Kate Steinle and the hundreds of others who have been injured, maimed, or killed by aliens who were released to the streets by ill-considered sanctuary rules and policies.

The scale of justice is sadly out of balance. It is time that victims and their families strike back and strike hard, if not for themselves or their lost loved ones, then perhaps in the hope that it might save the life of someone somewhere else. And if sanctuary states and local governments cannot do so for the right moral reasons, perhaps they will modify their policies when their pocketbooks are affected.