As the new year kicked off, California officially became a “sanctuary state” – a designation that means the nation’s most populous state will limit just how much local law enforcement officials will cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
The law was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October but didn’t go into effect until Jan. 1. It, in part, bars police from asking people about their immigration status or participating in some federal immigration enforcement activities.
“These are uncertain times for undocumented Californians and their families, and this bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day,” Brown said when he signed the bill into law.
President Trump has promised to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities and signed an executive order nearly one year ago that moved to strip federal grant money from cities that “harbor” undocumented immigrations.
A federal judge permanently blocked in December as he said the Trump administration lacks the authority to impose new conditions on spending that have already been approved by Congress. He said Trump’s executive order violated the Fifth and Tenth Amendments.
What are sanctuary cities?
While the exact specifications can vary, sanctuary city policies overall limit just how much local law enforcement officials comply with federal immigration authorities.
San Francisco, for example, passed an ordinance in 1989 that prohibits city employees, funds or resources from assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in enforcing federal immigration law unless it’s required by state or federal law.
It also passed an ordinance that limits when law enforcement officials can give ICE notice that an immigrant has been released from a local jail and prohibits law enforcement officials from cooperating with detainer requests from ICE.
Berkeley, near San Francisco, is reportedly the original sanctuary city. It passed a resolution in 1971 that protected sailors who wanted to resist the Vietnam War.
It’s difficult to nail down a concrete number of just how many cities are considered to be a sanctuary for immigrants – some cities have an ordinance or policy in place; others do not.
Aside from cities, five states – California, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont – have enacted laws that limit how much police can contribute assistance to federal immigration agents, according to the New York Times.
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) argues that counties – not just cities – should establish sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants.
How are they viewed?
The debate about sanctuary cities intensified in July 2015 when Katie Steinle, 32, was killed as she strolled along the San Francisco waterfront with her father. Steinle was fatally shot by a man with a criminal record who had slipped into the U.S. multiple times illegally.
A California jury acquitted the man accused of shooting Steinle of the more serious charges, including murder, involuntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was only convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
While he is expected to be deported, the Justice Department is considering bringing federal charges against him.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed a roomful of federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials last year and criticized cities, like Philadelphia, that are “giving sanctuary” to criminals. He asked them to “reconsider the harm they are doing to their residents.”
ILRC argues that local law enforcement jurisdictions do not have a “legal obligation to assist with civil immigration enforcement, which is the responsibility of the federal government.”
“A local decision to offer resources to federal immigration enforcement authorities is completely voluntary,” the legal organization said in a 2016 report.
ILRC called Trump’s threat to restrict federal funding of sanctuary cities “purely retaliatory in motivation.”
Many mayors of these cities have also bucked the threat and continued to affirm protection for immigrants.
“We are not going to sacrifice a half-million people who live amongst us, who are part of our communities, whose family members and loved ones happen to be people in many cases who are either permanent residents or citizens,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, said last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.