Rep. Lance Gooden, the U.S. House Rep. for the fifth District of Texas which includes Kaufman, has introduced a new bill designed to defund sanctuary cities and implement mandatory minimum sentences for illegal immigrants caught re-entering the country.
Sanctuary cities, cities and counties in the U.S. that limit their cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have become partisan hotspots in American politics. While proponents argue that sanctuary cities are designed to increase public safety by breaking down barriers between police officers and immigrants, others view them as criminal destinations that do little more than protect and harbor fugitives. Rep. Gooden puts himself into the latter category.
“More than 15 metropolitan cities operate in open violation of federal law by choosing to operate as sanctuary cities,” Gooden said in an op-ed submitted to The Kaufman Herald. “These cities have become prime destinations for immigrants who have come to America illegally. In most cases, these are violent criminals and drug traffickers seeking a safe haven to avoid deportation.”
Although sanctuary cities and counties, which number in the dozens across the United States and include major destinations like Chicago and Washington D.C., are contradictory of federal law, the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does prohibit states from being forced to enforce federal law. This is why marijuana legalization is possible on the state level even as its use remains illegal federally. Courts have ruled that immigration enforcement also falls into this category of limitation, which set the stage for sanctuary cities to exist.
The term sanctuary city is broad; there isn’t a set list of qualifications needed for a city to define itself as one other than limited cooperation with ICE. Chicago, which is classified as a sanctuary city, only has statues regarding employment as employers in the city are barred from asking about employees’ immigration status. Washington D.C. on the other hand goes so far as to bar police from inquiring about immigration status. But for the most part, sanctuary cities are defined by local police and their approach to following documents administered by ICE called detainer requests.
When anyone in the United States is arrested by local law enforcement for any reason, they are brought back to the station and booked, a process that involves a fingerprint scan that is then sent to the FBI and ICE. If one of the fingerprints matches the ID of an undocumented immigrant, detainer requests are then sent by ICE to local departments asking officers to detain specific individuals for a set amount of time in order for ICE to send out officers to detain them and begin deportation proceedings.
Once ICE officials arrive, local police, whether they’re in a sanctuary city or otherwise, cannot interfere. However, detainer requests are just that: requests. They are not enforceable by law, which, by proxy, puts the power in the local departments’ hands to decide whether to acquiesce to them. By attempting to circumvent this situation by withholding federal grants from police departments who refuse to comply with detainer requests, Gooden’s national government bill would essentially be regulating local chapters, which, in this case, Gooden argues, is necessary.
“I believe the federal government should operate with great restraint when it comes to dictating law enforcement standards to local agencies,” Gooden said. “However, this cannot be the case when there is a blatant and dangerous disregard for the law and the protection of American citizens.”
Gooden uses the example of a case in Baltimore, Maryland, a sanctuary city, which involved the death of 14-year-old girl Ariana Funes-Diaz by two minors who were undocumented and had previous criminal records. Apparently, the murderers were affiliated with international crime gang MS-13 and were concerned Funes-Diaz, who had previously worked with them on other crimes, would go to the police and turn them in, potentially resulting in their deportation.
Although the murderers in this case had previously been arrested for violent crime in May 2018, and the Baltimore Police Department did receive a detainer request from ICE in that case, the police chose not to comply, allowing the two individuals to remain in the country. Gooden argues that this crime could have been prevented had the police followed the detainer request issued by ICE in 2018 and that this case is indicative of a broader problem occurring in all sanctuary cities.
“This is a threat to public safety,” Gooden said. “Authorities completely disregarded the rule of law. The crime could have ben prevented if authorities in Baltimore had complied.”
However, multiple studies have been conducting researching the relationship between sanctuary cities and their crime rates and have found no congruence whatsoever. In fact, many sanctuary cities including Chicago and New York City have actually seen their crime rates decrease since becoming sanctuary cities. Further, some police chiefs actually prefer sanctuary policies as they promote greater cooperation between law enforcement and immigrants, who in many cases are too afraid to go to the police to report criminal activity or serve as witnesses out of fear that they will be detained and deported themselves. Not only does this allow some crimes to go unreported in areas with a high population of immigrants, in many cases it actually makes the immigrants themselves targets for criminals.
“The bad guys know that many immigrants will not call the police,” President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association J. Thomas Manger said.
Charlie Beck, the police chief of Los Angeles where 500,000 residents are undocumented immigrants, agrees.
“I need their cooperation,” Beck said. “I need them to work with local police. I need them to be witnesses to violent crime.”
Gooden’s bill is hardly the first attempt at effectively banning sanctuary cities. Some states, including Texas, have attempted to outlaw noncompliance with ICE in their cities and counties. Texas governor Greg Abbott even called sanctuary cities “pretty much the definition of anarchy.” On the national level, President Trump signed an executive order which would cut federal funds from sanctuary municipalities as early as January 2017, but after multiple lawsuits, both have been stuck in litigation ever since. According to Gooden, President Trump, congressional Republicans and conservative pundits including Fox News’ Jesse Watters who called sanctuary city officials “Satan worshippers,” immigration, legal and otherwise, is a national emergency.
“The immigration system in the United States is plagued with a myriad of problems, many of which are fueled by illegal immigration,” Gooden said. “Simply put, we do not have control over who is coming across our border or where they are going upon arrival. We need to make significant changes to ensure that state, local and federal entities are all working together.”
The American public, meanwhile, are more split on the issue. Over the last several years, Gallup polls have found that 77 percent of those polled viewed large numbers of undocumented immigrants entering the United States as dangerous while 75 percent favor hiring significantly more border patrol agents. However, 75 percent of those polled also said they believe immigration is overall a good thing for the country and 81 percent of those polled approved of allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time. Only 37 percent of those polled approved of deporting all illegal immigrants and 33 percent favored the construction of President Trump’s much-discussed border wall.
But when it comes to sanctuary cities specifically, the country couldn’t be more divided. Fifty percent of those polled indicated they would favor banning sanctuary cities. While Gooden’s bill is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled House, the issue of complying with ICE will likely continue to be a local issue decided by state and local governments and police departments for the foreseeable future.