Posted by Ali Albassam on March 28, 2017 in Blog

Attorney General Jeff Sessions took the first steps in fulfilling President Trump’s campaign promise to “defund sanctuary cities” on Monday. In the White House briefing room, Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would "claw back any funds awarded to a jurisdiction" if the Administration believes it is not abiding by federal immigration laws.

Despite many media sources depicting Sessions’ announcement as “Breaking News”, the reality is that this is nothing new and may be more of a scare tactic than anything. Sessions announced no new policies, but rather reaffirmed the continuation of an Obama era DOJ policy that conditions federal grants on compliance with a 1996 federal statute. The statute provides that state and local government entities cannot impose restrictions on information shared with federal immigration authorities about the immigration status or citizenship of any individual, whether that individual is lawfully present or not. 

Depending on how this policy is carried out, it could potentially be unconstitutional. The federal government can only withhold grants if the condition is relevant to the purpose of the grant. The Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that the federal government cannot coerce state and local governments to implement the President's policies.  

This was reasserted in 1997, when the Supreme Court ruled on Printz v. United States. In his majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the Tenth Amendment prohibited the federal government from “commandeering” the "forced participation of the State's executive in the actual administration of a federal program." 

Mayors of Fourth Amendment (also known as “sanctuary") cities have vowed to respond with fierce resistance. Mayor de Blasio of New York City argued, “We’re going to defend all of our people regardless of where they come from, regardless of their immigration status.”

Attorney General Sessions attempted to frame Fourth Amendment cities as a national security issue, arguing that 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.” 

This wrongful portrayal of undocumented immigrants as “criminals” or a “national security risk” is nothing more than a misguided effort to drive an anti-immigrant agenda. In fact, studies have shown that Fourth Amendment cities tend to be safer communities. 

Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), California State Senate President Pro Tempore and the sponsor of a bill to make California a “sanctuary state”, argued that Sessions’ announcement was “nothing short of blackmail.”

“Instead of making us safer, the Trump administration is spreading fear and promoting race-based scapegoating,” he said in the statement. “Their gun-to-the-head method to force resistant cities and counties to participate in Trump’s inhumane and counterproductive mass-deportation is unconstitutional and will fail.”

While the term “sanctuary city” has become politically charged in recent months, the fact is that these cities are home to large and vibrant immigrant communities that allow them to build their lives and community while advancing public safety because they are free to speak without fear. Because the Fourth Amendment of the constitution protects these communities, the term “Fourth Amendment cities” would be more fitting.  

It is crucial that all Americans work to combat discrimination and bigotry, which is why AAI recently published its Advocacy Road Map that aims to engage everyone on these pressing issues.