Connecticut officials and protestors have come out against President Donald Trump’s executive order to pull federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities.
But what are they, and what policies do they follow that federal immigration authorities object to?
What are sanctuary cities?
The term “sanctuary city” is misleading, said Kari Hong, a Boston College law professor who specializes in immigration.
“It implies that [a state or municipality] gives amnesty to undocumented immigrants in defiance of the law, but it doesn’t do that,” she said. “It simply means they are not going to do the work of a federal officer in enforcing immigration law.”
The federal government has to enforce the laws and not local police or agencies. Federal officials are responsible for their own agents, gathering their own information, and holding suspects in their own detention facilities. Phone calls and email messages to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were not returned.
Sanctuary in Connecticut
In 2013, Connecticut passed the “Trust Act” that allows state and local law enforcement agencies to ignore a federal “detainer” for an undocumented resident who hasn’t committed a serious felony or been identified for other reasons, such as being in a database of gang members or suspected terrorists. A detainer is a request from immigration authorities to hold undocumented residents beyond their normal release date.
The federal government first began asking cities and states to work with them on deportation enforcement by running background checks on those they arrested and then detaining any undocumented suspects indefinitely until Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials (ICE) could determine whether they were deportable under President George W. Bush’s Secure Communities Program, said Hong. This eventually evolved into President Barack Obama’s Priority Enforcement Program.
Cities cooperated at first, but things changed. Federal officials told cities they would get rid of serious criminals like drug dealers, rapists, and murderers, but statistics showed that about 40 percent of those deported had no criminal record and 16 percent were deported for minor crimes, such as driving without a driver’s license, Hong said.
States and cities sometimes were stuck detaining immigrants for years as cases were backlogged in immigration courts. Many jurisdictions were not reimbursed by the federal government, costing millions. Researchers also said immigrants were less likely to contact police officers if they had been a victim of a crime if they feared they or someone they knew would be asked about their immigration status.
It’s not an issue that local agencies in Connecticut deal with often, said Monroe Police Chief John Salvatore, who is president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association.
It’s not a necessity for local police to determine whether or not someone is undocumented, he said.
“We’re just trying to build cooperation in our communities,” said Salvatore. “We don’t really want people to be fearful of us because we’re just trying to do our jobs to investigate any incidents and get cooperation from witnesses and victims. We don’t want them fearful of us.”
Hartford and New Haven, which have a large immigrant populations, are among dozens of cities in Connecticut with police departments that have established policies of not asking the immigration status of those they arrest or those who contact police.
Colleges also may decline to cooperate with federal officials who ask for lists of noncitizen students. But if federal officials obtain an arrest or search warrant, then colleges must cooperate.
Deportations from the United States
Hundreds of thousands of people are deported from the United States each year.
Detainers declined in Connecticut
Correction and law enforcement officials in Connecticut declined 48 ICE detainers between Jan. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015, according to ICE.
|Location||Declined||Declined with criminal history||Declined with no history|
|Bridgeport Sheriff’s Office||1||1||0|
|Bridgeport Correctional Center||8||4||4|
|Bridgeport Police Dept.||3||1||2|
|Brooklyn Correctional Center||1||0||1|
|Connecticut State Police||1||0||1|
|Corrigan Correctional Inst.||1||1||0|
|Gates Correctional Inst.||1||1||0|
|Hamden Police Dept.||1||0||1|
|Hartford Correctional Center||4||2||2|
|Hartford Police Dept.||1||0||1|
|Hartford Superior Court||1||1||0|
|Manchester Police Dept.||1||0||1|
|Manson Youth Inst.||2||1||1|
|Meriden Police Departrment||1||1||0|
|New Britian Superior Court||1||0||1|
|New Have Police Dept.||1||1||0|
|New Haven Correctional Center||6||4||2|
|Osborn Correctional Inst.||1||1||0|
|Stamford Police Dept.||6||3||3|
|Stratford Police Dept.||1||1||0|
Immigrants in Connecticut
The percent of foreign-born residents in Connecticut grew from 8.5 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2015, according to figures from the U.S. Census. About 24 percent of the immigrants in Connecticut are undocumented, which ranks it 31st among the states in the percentage of immigrants who are undocumented, according to a study from Pew Research Center in 2014.
Crime in sanctuary cities
During his presidential campaign and since, Trump has characterized the policies followed in sanctuary policies as encouraging crime.
“I’m very much opposed to sanctuary cities. They breed crime. There’s a lot of problems,” Trump said during an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News this week.
A recent study of 608 sanctuary counties found lower rates of crime there than in non-sanctuary counties.
Crime trends in Connecticut cities where officials have proclaimed sanctuary status show a consistent decline since the ’90s.
Though there was a slight recent uptick in rates in some cities like Hartford and Manchester, the rates are still low relative to 20 years earlier.
Can President Trump withhold federal funding from Connecticut and its cities for not cooperating with immigration enforcement?
There are Supreme Court precedents that prevent the federal government from commandeering local and state officials.
“He’s making these threats with the executive order, but the Supreme Court have already said in a general manner that this won’t be permitted,” said Hong. “So it very much appears this is an attempt to coerce or bully or shame cities.”
Two cities in Massachusetts, Lawrence and Chelsea, already have sued President Trump for his threat to cut federal funding. San Francisco filed a similar suit last week.
Enforcement of Trump’s other executive order regarding immigration, which banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, has been blocked by the courts so far. The Trump administration is reportedly considering appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court or redrafting the executive order.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, no one has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from, or whose parents emigrated from, the seven countries targeted in the executive order: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
Below are statistics for persons from those countries deported, and the proportion deported for criminal activity. (Libya’s figures were not released by Homeland Security). Overall, they are an extremely small percentage of deportations from the U.S.