How ‘Sanctuary Cities’ are Helping Immigrants Outwit ICE

John Carlos Frey, The Marshall Project, June 19, 2017


Now the conflict between Trump and the mayors has escalated from a war of words to a war of tactics as some “sanctuary cities” — and one state — are taking action to help immigrants avoid Trump’s dragnet. Here are several examples:


In May, the city passed municipal sentencing reform that could help immigrants avoid deportation for petty offenses. Federal rules put immigrants on Immigration and Customs Enforcement radar when they are convicted of certain types of crimes that carry a sentence of at least a year. Prior to Denver’s reform measure, all criminal violations of city ordinance carried the same penalty — up to 365 days. The new sentencing guidelines place the penalty for low-level violations under 364 days, which could help keep some immigrants off the federal books.


Los Angeles

Los Angeles has an estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, the most in any U.S. city. And the Los Angeles Police Department has a 40-year history of not enforcing immigration law, dating back to former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson’s crackdown on the undocumented. It doesn’t appear that Trump’s aggressive deportation strategy is changing L.A.’s stance. Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared he will sue the federal government for any withholding of funds or pressure placed on the L.A.P.D. to enforce immigration laws. He also set up a $10 million legal defense fund for people threatened with deportation.



The state Senate passed a bill in late March that officially would make California a sanctuary state. A defiant response to Trump’s threat to defund “sanctuary cities,” the legislation bars state and local law enforcement from using resources to help with immigration enforcement and prohibits law enforcement statewide from asking for immigration status. Connecticut, Colorado, New Mexico and Rhode Island already have similar statewide protections for undocumented immigrants, but this measure, expected to be signed by the governor, is the most far-reaching.


Washington, D.C.

In response to the Trump administration’s threat to withhold federal funding, Mayor Muriel Bowser said the District would continue to limit cooperation with deportation orders. “I will not let the residents of D.C. live in fear,” she said. The City Council also unanimously passed a resolution vowing to maintain “sanctuary city” status.



Like several other big city mayors, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has declared that Chicago will remain a safe haven for undocumented immigrants. In December, even before Trump took office, he pledged $1 million of city funds to assist immigrant families.


New York City

In late January, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he was socking away an additional $250 million a year in reserves for four years because of a “huge amount of uncertainty” stemming from Trump’s threat to cut federal funds to “sanctuary cities” like New York, which is home to an estimated undocumented population of over 750,000.



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