When we think about sanctuary cities, we tend to imagine, depending on our political view, either lawless cesspools where federal law is utterly ignored; pretty much the definition of anarchy human sacrifices, rapes, murders, Satan worshippers American lives are being lost they are breaking the law, they are harboring fugitives this is absolutely nuts or havens for one of the nation's most marginalized groups. You are safe in Chicago. This is about human beings, families. and will continue to be a place of refuge But, in reality, neither of those descriptions quite fit. And to understand why, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a local police officer. These policies are different in different places. In Chicago, it means city employees aren't supposed to share residents immigration status with other people. In Washington DC, it means police officers are barred from asking residents about their immigration status. But often, it comes down to this: how does the local police officer handle an unauthorized immigrant that he's already arrested for some other reason? Let's say a cop pulls someone over for speeding.
The cop notices this person has an unpaid speeding ticket, and they missed their day in court. So, the cop arrests the person, books them into the local jail. While they wait for someone to post bail, the person gets fingerprinted. That's part of the booking process. Those fingerprints then get sent to an FBI database, and then a database kept by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. That step is mandatory. Whether or not a city calls itself a sanctuary city, it still has to send those fingerprints through the FBI database. If the fingerprints match up with someone who ICE knows is an unauthorized immigrant, they might send the local cops holding this person something called a detainer request. The detainer request is just that: it's a request. The federal government is asking, not demanding, that police hold that person for an extra 48 hours after they would normally be released. That gives ICE time to come by, pick them up, start the deportation process.
Now, ICE can't force local law enforcement to hold someone and just by sending one of these detainer requests. The Constitution's Tenth Amendment prohibits state governments from having to enforce federal law. And some federal courts have decided that detainer requests fall into that category. So, if you're a local police chief or sheriff, and you get one of these requests, you have a choice. Do you honor the request? Or do you let the person go? Let's say you honor the request and keep the person in jail for an extra 48 hours. Ice comes to pick them up, and they get deported. Word gets out around the immigrant community: any time you interact with local police, it could mean deportation. Eventually, immigrants will be afraid to call the police, even when they're the victims of crime, or the witnesses to it. And then, immigrants become easy targets. Because the bad guys know that many immigrants will not call the police. For a local police chief, this is a big problem.
It's impossible to do their jobs when they don't have people's trust. Five hundred thousand Angelenos, people who live in Los Angeles, are undocumented immigrants. I need their cooperation. I need them work with their local police stations. I need them to be witnesses to violent crime. What about the other option? What happens if you ignore the order, and let this person go home? First, there's no guarantee that they won't get deported anyway. Whether a city considers itself a sanctuary or not, local law enforcement can't stop ICE from deporting someone. Think of the levels of government like rungs on a ladder. You have the federal government at the top level; that includes agencies like ICE. You have the state government: governors, legislatures, in the middle. And then, at the bottom, you have local government: mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs. If the federal government issues a detainer request, and the local police department refuses to accept it, the state government can step in by taking away one of the state funding streams from the local police.
That's what happened in Texas in 2017. The governor of the great state of Texas, Greg Abbott, has declared he will sign a law banning sanctuary cities. He's already issued an order that cuts funding to those sanctuary cities. This is dangerous and I will not allow it as governor of Texas. This map shows the counties in red that always cooperate with ICE, and the ones that don't; those are an orange, yellow, and green. The green counties have the most restrictions on when they cooperate with ICE detainer requests. In late January 2017, shortly after he got into office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that opens the door to withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities or counties. The wording of that order is vague, and it's already being challenged in federal court.
But if Trump's plan does move forward, it could put local law enforcement officers across the country in a lose-lose situation. For them, deciding whether to honor a detainer request is often about choosing between financial security on one hand, and public safety on the other. you.