By Alex Bregman
Sanctuary cities have become a major battleground in the immigration debate in the U.S. But what are they, and why does President Trump want to get rid of them?
On the campaign trail, Trump said things like “We will end the sanctuary cities that ended in so many needless deaths.”
In a nutshell, so-called sanctuary cities are cities, counties and even states that protect undocumented immigrants from federal authorities in a variety of ways. That includes barring law enforcement from asking about their legal status or refusing to detain them, even if the federal government wants them to.
So why were these special protections of undocumented immigrants put into place?
There are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, and these cities, counties and states don’t agree with deportation as a solution for people who have been building new lives here. To that end, local law enforcement agencies don’t want them to stay in the shadows or be afraid to report crimes they’ve witnessed or been victims of. Supporters say sanctuary cities help keep communities safer.
Critics, however, argue that these policies get in the way of enforcing federal immigration laws, tap community resources that could be used by legal citizens and protect alleged criminals. That includes 45-year-old Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who is accused of murdering 32-year-old Kate Steinle when she was walking with her father on Pier 14 in San Francisco a year and a half ago.
Lopez-Sanchez had committed several felonies and had been deported five times. Steinle’s death became a lightning rod for the national immigration debate.
While they’re known as sanctuary cities, that really just means safe places for undocumented immigrants to be.
The Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., really started the trend in the 1980s when it opened its doors for people fleeing civil wars in Central America. Now, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, there are more than 200 sanctuaries. That includes cities like New York, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco and entire states like California, Connecticut, New Mexico and Colorado.
The Trump administration is putting these states and cities on notice by publishing weekly lists of jurisdictions it deems in violation of immigration law.
The Department of Justice is also ready to cut billions for those localities they determine are not complying with federal immigration laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday, “Such policies make their cities and states less safe — public safety, as well as national security, are at stake — and put them at risk of losing federal dollars.”
However, cities and states are not going down without a fight. The mayor of Seattle announced this week that the city is suing the Trump administration over its latest threat to pull funding.
As the debate continues surrounding sanctuary cities, when it comes to what they are, at least you can say, “Now I get it.”
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