If Not “Sanctuaries,” Then What?
Some small steps jurisdictions and individuals can take to deal with or prepare for Trump’s immigration crackdown
The other day I wrote about why declaring a city or other jurisdiction a “sanctuary” in and of itself won’t protect immigrants from ICE enforcement. [You can find that here.] The short version: There is no law or policy that any state, county, or city can create to stop federal law enforcement actions in their jurisdiction. The patchwork nature of American jurisdictions makes crafting even minimally protective policies difficult. Further, calling something a“sanctuary” could invite more scrutiny from the Trump administration, and in some places could trigger an electoral backlash that would rescind the policy and further erode progressive government and, ironically, any protections. And even if it doesn’t, simply saying something is a sanctuary doesn’t make it so, but could make it confusing and potentially dangerous to people who might misunderstand and rely on that understanding.
Jurisdictions could make some supportive changes without needing to call themselves a “sanctuary”
While there’s not a strong reason to push a jurisdiction to use the word sanctuary, there are some ways that officials, residents, and individuals can respond in at least a small way. And by implementing specific policies, jurisdictions could make some supportive changes without even needing to explicitly call themselves a sanctuary, possibly avoiding negative repercussions. These are some things that might have some impact.
Create a legal defense fund to pay for for lawyers to represent residents in immigration court, if your jurisdiction has not already started one.
Unlike in criminal trials, there is no requirement that people facing deportation be provided a lawyer in court. Hearings before an immigration judge are often only a few minutes long, and having a lawyer could mean the difference between immediate deportation and continuing to have a chance of remaining in the U.S. A legal fund would help pay the expenses of getting private lawyers to appear with immigrants in proceedings, and could be set up by an organization or by cities, as Los Angeles and Chicago have done, and governments, organizations, and individuals should be able to contribute. The larger the fund, the more cases could be handled.
Find and talk to an immigration attorney.
People at risk of deportation or losing their legal status should talk to an immigration attorney about what’s happening to get a read on their personal risk. They should explore any other way they might have to try to change their status, such as an asylum claim, though this will work for only a small proportion of people. They should also plan for eventualities if they are detained or deported. These include issues like creating a Power of Attorney so someone else can legally handle their affairs in the U.S. and making plans for taking care of children. In light of the Trump administration crackdowns, some consulates are starting to offer identity documents to people who were taken out of their country without ever having been registered.
Look out for Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), aka Green Card holders.
Encourage them to apply for citizenship if they can, or immediately when they become eligible. Permanent Residency is something that can be taken away if a crime is committed, while citizenship is immensely harder to strip someone of. Some states have gone so far as to change state law to keep LPRs from having their status stripped away from them inadvertently for relatively minor run-ins with the law. Make sure that people with Green Cards or Visas know that their status can be taken away, and they should be extra careful. Trump has given every indication that he intends to make a major crackdown on Permanent Residents.
Ask local and county jurisdictions to require warrants rather than honor ICE detainers.
Detainers represent a warrantless arrest beyond what the individual was already in jail for, and by refusing detainers local jurisdictions would simply be demanding that ICE comply with the requirements of the Constitution. As of this writing, ICE’s authority to issue them has been struck down in several states on this issue. If refusing to honor detainers is not a possibility, jurisdictions could set policies to only honor detainers in certain situations, for example for someone serving time for a violent crime but not for someone serving a sentence for drunk driving.
Make sure people know what rights they do have.
Disseminate information like this from the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU, and other pro-immigrant legal orgs. People should know not to open their door without a warrant and to not answer questions from law enforcement about their immigration status. An important point to remember is that even local police can detain immigrants for violations in some circumstances. This is because while state and local police are likely precluded from enforcing civil immigration violations, e.g. unlawful presence, an admission that someone entered the country illegally is evidence of a criminal violation. So if someone tells a city police officer they entered the country illegally, they could be arrested.
If a person at risk of deportation is living at an address known to ICE, they may want to consider moving to a different address. They are the low hanging fruit in Trump’s push to show action against immigrants. We’ve seen in the last week that people with removal orders or criminal convictions of some kind whose addresses were in ICE’s possession have been raided. This same consideration applies about whether it makes sense for people required to check in regularly at ICE facilities should continue to do so, as a recent high profile case saw a formerly low priority individual immediately deported. Moving could put individuals at greater risk depending on their circumstances. People considering this should find a lawyer and discuss the issue of of what repercussions one might face for changing addresses. If you have current status, such as DACA, this should not be something you consider doing unless circumstances drastically change, which they might. Be vigilant about checking the news, and from real news sources, such as national newspapers and immigration law organizations, rather than from blogs and partisan clickbait sites.
Establish a policy that local government, including police, will not question people about their immigration status.
I mentioned in my previous piece on sanctuary jurisdictions that it wasn’t clear if jurisdictions that asked about immigration status put people more at risk of enforcement actions. It is clear however that these tactics are harassing, corrosive to the proper functioning of local government-resident interaction, and often employed with illegal racial profiling. Creating such a policy would mean that police, schools, housing inspectors, social services, and other offices could not ask someone if they were present legally. This is more important still because local governments cannot restrict information sharing with the federal government if a federal agency were to press the issue. So keeping officials from asking about immigration status would keep that information out of the hands of the Trump administration, and it’s likely this restriction would stand up to a court challenge. It’s even possible that a blanket ban could be imposed by a state law onto cities and counties, though this will almost certainly get tested in court if a statewide measure is passed like the one California is considering.
Protest what’s happening.
Protest everything; every raid, every roundup, every deportation. Be visible, be loud. I’m always heartened to see that so many organizations and individuals have been doing this for years, nonstop. But they need help. They especially need help because many of the people who were protesting last year can no longer do so, since in the absence of policies limiting their actions ICE may very well decide to conduct enforcement operations at protests. This means that people without legal status or whose status might be tenuous should think long and hard before exposing themselves to that risk.
Protest is not going to change anyone’s mind. It’s not going to make the Trump administration stop what it’s doing. Trump himself has stated he simply doesn’t care what people who didn’t vote Republican think, noting of the crowds protesting at GOP town halls, “they’re not the Republican people that the representatives are representing.” It won’t suddenly make all those people on the right who wholeheartedly support mass deportations think about the human cost of immigration enforcement. It will, however, keep the actions in the news, and make it clear that people care about immigrants, and keep that issue on the front burner, not allowing it to get lost in the chaos of all of the things the Trump administration will try to destroy.
None of these is a good solution. There are no particularly good solutions.
None of these is a good solution. There are no particularly good solutions. There are only stopgaps and half measures, crossed fingers and held breaths. The best anyone can hope for is that as few people are stripped of their livelihoods and dignity as possible and especially, that as few longtime U.S. residents as possible will be shunted back to countries they haven’t seen since they were a child, or have no memory of ever seeing at all. There are other ideas out there. Many of them involve riffs on ending the police state, arrests in general, etc. In my opinion these aren’t plausible ideas, especially not in the time frame of how things are unfolding today. So these are the measures that I think are valid, manageable, and could provide some help to somebody. Unfortunately, that’s where things are at now.
Carlos M. Vizcarra has worked with presidential, federal and gubernatorial campaigns in dozens of states across the country as well as at the DNC, DCCC, and other orgs. He holds a JD and an LLM in National Security Law from Georgetown University. Twitter: @CarlosMVizcarra