What to do About Sanctuary Cities?

By Jessica M. Vaughan on July 18, 2012

An article this week on Time.com does a decent job of capturing current developments in one of the most rankling issues in immigration law enforcement — what to do about sanctuary cities — and, atypically, highlights the Obama administration's disinclination to confront them, even as they undermine a key enforcement initiative.

The hottest trend in sanctuary circles is to order local law enforcement agencies to ignore detainer requests from ICE. This ploy has been avidly promoted by illegal-alien advocates with this guide that was funded by the Soros Foundation. The goal is to try to thwart the nearly national Secure Communities program, an automated fingerprint sharing initiative that enables ICE to identify removable aliens who are arrested by local authorities. Anti-ICE policies have been adopted in Cook County, Ill.; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties in California; Taos, N.M.; and the state of Connecticut. Advocates claim they help police maintain good relationships with immigrants, which is baloney. The real result is that they create more victims and increase criminal justice costs by sending criminal aliens right back to our streets instead of back to their home country.

The Obama administration is in a pickle. People are starting to wonder why they are tolerating this interference, especially when the consequences can be so problematic. Among other good quotes, the article has one from George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley:

The administration has to be seen as opposing [these measures] as vigorously as they did the Arizona measure. First to be consistent on principle, the administration just argued before the Supreme Court that states should not be able to create detainer policies unilaterally and that the federal government should have overriding authority in the area.

Sorry, Professor Turley, don't expect principled consistency from the White House on immigration enforcement matters, unless it's to suppress enforcement. It took just hours for Janet Napolitano to yank the useful 287(g) task force programs from Arizona sheriffs following the Supreme Court decision on SB 1070 last month, and after the dubious DOJ findings on Maricopa County, Ariz., last December. But for nearly a year, Napolitano and her team have just sat on their hands as sanctuary after sanctuary have passed policies thumbing their noses at ICE and its detainers.

It's not like the feds have no leverage. Each year, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to local governments and law enforcement agencies, including reimbursements for detaining criminal aliens (see my study "Subsidizing Sanctuaries").

Last week at a House Homeland Security hearing, ICE Director John Morton told the sub-committee chair, Candice Miller (R-Mich.), that he is deeply troubled by the Cook County developments, and suggested that this year they might not approve Cook County's annual reimbursement for jailing illegal aliens.

As the Time article suggests, Morton is probably just blowing more smoke. He's been trash-talking about sanctioning Cook County for more than six months now, but has done no more than write a couple of mildly threatening letters, which were publicly scorned by the county board president. Then, last week Chicago mayor and former top Obama staffer Rahm Emanuel announced that he'd like to have much the same policy for his police department.

The next shoe to drop could be a big one. The California legislature is expected to pass a bill in August that would restrict all of the state's law enforcement agencies in working with ICE. No question, such a state law would put a huge dent in the Obama administration's "smarter and more effective" immigration enforcement. These legislators are not likely to be deterred by limp protests from Morton or anyone else at DHS. Actions speak louder than words, as the saying goes, and the administration's disdain for immigration law enforcement becomes more obvious every week.