Sanctuary city policies make communities safer

Lakka Benti

Lakka Benti

Lakka Benti, Domestic Policy Intern, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office

In 2008, the Bush administration started a program called Secure Communities by which the fingerprints of someone booked into a local jail were shared with federal immigration databases to determine if the person was an undocumented immigrant. Immigration authorities could then request a “detainer” or “hold” be placed on the person until Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials could pick them up and put them into deportation proceedings.

The program was expanded under President Obama and led to the deportation of tens of thousands of immigrants. (In 2014, the Secure Communities program was discontinued, but detainer requests continue in a similar form under the Priority Enforcement Program).

Several cities, counties and states pushed back against Secure Communities, passing “Trust Act” or “Sanctuary City” policies announcing they would not participate in the program. Local governments and sheriffs argued that such policies, which mix local policing and immigrant enforcement, make communities less safe by causing immigrants to fear reporting crimes to local police. They also objected to being asked to hold someone in jail even when that person had not been convicted or even charged with a crime.

For many undocumented immigrants, living in a city with a sanctuary policy means being able to drive to work or school without the constant fear of being pulled over for something like a broken tail light and later turned over to ICE to be deported. It means being able to report domestic violence or other crimes without fearing that just by coming into contact with police your fingerprints might be sent to ICE.

This fall, the U.S. Congress debated legislation to deny federal law enforcement funding to sanctuary cities. The Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act would revoke this funding if cities do not comply with all ICE detainer requests. If passed, the bill would have overturned local polices adopted by more than 300 jurisdictions across the country. On October 20, 2015, the bill came up for a vote in the Senate and failed on a procedural motion.

Many local police departments believe that mixing immigration enforcement with law enforcement is a bad idea because it hampers their efforts to build trust with communities. The concern is that undocumented immigrants will be too afraid to report crimes or come forward as a witness because they would be afraid of deportation.

As it says in Jeremiah 22:3 “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”

Congress should focus on fixing our broken immigration system rather than on punitive legislation that penalizes cities trying to build trust with the communities they are charged with protecting.