Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a White House press briefing that his department would crack down on those municipalities known as “Sanctuary Cities” by withholding Government grant money. Observers thought this familiar threat was made mainly to change the media subjects from the rejection of the Republicans healthcare bill and the controversy surrounding potential Russian collusion with Trump campaign staff members. Good try but probably too little to late.
The sanctuary city theme is both provocative and Constitutionally important. Both points seem to be missed with AG Sessions in favor of partisan political ground fire.
Sanctuary Cities are municipalities which have said they will not actively help Immigration Agents unless the agents have a warrant (so as to not violate the 4th Amendment). At first blush, this refusal of Federal Immigration officers request seems unjustified. But in most cases, Immigration Officers want local officers to notify them whenever they take into custody any undocumented alien.
In practice, the Immigration agent must then get a warrant (taking up to several days) during which time the local municipality must house and feed someone for whom they have dropped charges. Again, this is a violation of the 4th Amendment, not to mention a costly decision.
Most Sanctuary Cities claim that in addition to the 4th Amendment, a policy of turning over all undocumenteds would drive that community underground. The fear is that both petty and serious crimes which took place in neighborhoods where undocumented lived would go unreported resulting in increased violence and make a larger area unsafe. This argument has fallen on deaf ears with the arrival of the Trump Administration.
Of course, Sessions threats could be simply a “shot across the bow” and intended to bully local municipalities into a more cooperative role. Sessions and the Trump Administration, however, will be in for a surprise should they actually withhold funds from a major city or county. This bully practice will be met with a counter suit, plenty of undesirable publicity, and a predictable losing court fight. Another black eye for the Administration.
The undocumented situation is a complex problem and Sessions’ promised actions won’t make a dent in the estimated 11 million currently living throughout the US. Comprehensive immigration reform, where immigrants from Mexico (and maybe central America) are documented, taxed, and required to have a known address, and are treated as guest workers with a defined path to citizenship, is the only path to solving this situation.
Comprehensive reform is politically difficult but Session rhetoric is unhelpful and potentially an action to make the situation even more difficult to improve.