Sanctuary Cities

Even Trump Administration Not Quite Sure What Counts as a 'Sanctuary City'

Report to track uncooperative communities suspended over accuracy issues.


Immigration protest
Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA/Newscom

President Donald Trump administration's plan to call out cities that don't cooperate with immigration deportations has hit a snag over the fact that the list doesn't seem to be terribly accurate, and it's already being suspended.

The first report came out only a month ago and there was an immediate backlash by some communities that were targeted by the administration. The report, based on an executive order from Trump early in the administration, was an attempt to try to shame "sanctuary cities" that do not check immigration status of people in their custody. The administration's goal was to force these cities to help officials deport those here illegally who are also connected to crimes.

Several law enforcement agencies who were singled out by the report say they actually do cooperate with immigration officials. The New York Times reports:

In Minnesota, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office called the report "incorrect in many ways" and also demanded an apology from ICE officials.

Sheriff Richard Stanek of Hennepin County said his office had cooperated with requests from ICE and notified immigration officials when two undocumented immigrants wanted by the federal authorities were going to be released. He said both inmates were transferred into ICE custody when they were released from jail.

During a news conference last month, Mr. Stanek displayed time-stamped pictures from his jail showing the two inmates being picked up by deportation agents the day they were released.

So they're stopping the program for now to "refine its reporting methodologies."

Even beyond the basic issue of accuracy, what exactly does "cooperation" mean here, anyway? The administration is selling this plan as a way of getting illegal immigrants who have committed crimes (beyond not having permission to be in the United States) out. But even the initial report, which had only a little over 200 cases out of 3,000 where authorities didn't assist, was full of people who had merely been charged and not convicted of crimes. And as the Times notes, it's not clear whether even those 200 cases were accurately described.

This discrepancy is relevant because many of these cities and communities do cooperate with immigration in deporting immigrants who are convicted of crimes and when they're given an arrest warrant or court order. What the feds are attempting to accomplish here is to have cities and jails turn over illegal immigrants on a simple immigration hold "detainer" orders. But these detainers are really legally considered to be simply formally written requests. Local police and jails are under no legal obligation to do anything at all under federal laws (state and local laws may vary).

So, really, this particular immigration enforcement fight is turning into a case where the administration and Department of Justice is going to try to punish "sanctuary cities," except they can't even seem to adequately explain what cities are doing that is in violation of any federal law. Cities are under no obligation to assist in helping immigration officials as long as they don't do anything to try to outlaw or forbid communication between police and the feds about a person's immigration status.

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