Republicans in more than half the states in the country have proposed bills that would prevent, to some degree or another, cities from implementing sanctuary policies for illegal immigrants. Lawmakers in Mississippi, Florida, Texas have made significant headway in the war on sanctuary cities, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. In total, 33 states have introduced measures that would bring sanctuary cities into compliance with federal immigration law, just as the Trump administration begins threatening those cities with a reduction in funding.
There isn’t necessarily one firm definition that makes a city a “sanctuary” or not, but there are hundreds of cities throughout the U.S. that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration officials. Some merely reject detainer requests, meaning they do not hold illegal immigrants in custody for ICE to come pick up and put into deportation proceedings. Others only fulfill the requests under certain conditions, such as when the individual in question has been convicted of a serious crime. Still others have no firm policy on detainer requests, but refuse to have their local law enforcement officers question people on their immigration status.
It is the detainer policies, though, that are most often targeted by Republican lawmakers – and the Trump administration – when they talk of eliminating sanctuary city policies. Some proposed laws “would require cities to swear under penalty of perjury that they comply with federal detainer requests,” reports The Hill.
“If a city calls itself a sanctuary city, that means a lot of different things to a lot of different cities,” Pennsylvania Republican Guy Reschenthaler told The Hill. He is sponsoring legislation that would ban all “municipalities of refuge” in his home state.
The newspaper reports that other states are taking action as well:
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has withheld millions of dollars in grants to Travis County, which includes Austin. State Sen. Charles Perry (R), who has sponsored one of the 23 bills dealing with sanctuary city legislation, said state grants make up a substantial portion of many city and county budgets, which means local officials pay attention when a state moves to block those funds.
“The only way you can get a jurisdiction’s attention is if you withhold the money,” Perry said. “We have several jurisdictions in Texas that, either implicit or explicit, have become sanctuary cities.”
Virginia legislators passed a ban on sanctuary cities earlier this year, though Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed that measure. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is likely to do the same to Reschenthaler’s bill in Pennsylvania if it passes the state House.
The meat and potatoes of these efforts will likely come not from Republican lawmakers and not even from the Department of Justice. They will come with a turning of public opinion against these sanctuary policies, which endanger communities and violate federal law. If Republicans can get the messaging right – which simply means letting Americans see for themselves what harm these policies are doing – the rest will quickly fall into place.