By Police (Wikipedia Commons) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

March 28, 2017; National Public Radio, “The Two-Way”

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the U.S. Justice Department would withhold funding from “sanctuary cities” until they agreed to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The impact of these cuts will be felt across the country, but the response from most municipalities was clear: We will not be moved.

Many officials issued firm calls for justice and solidarity from their citizens.

  • “It is highly ironic that the Attorney General claims that withholding law enforcement funds will make sanctuary cities safer when the opposite is true.”—Newark Mayor Ras Baraka
  • “My dad was arrested for the ‘jail-able offense’ of sitting at a lunch counter. He wasn’t afraid of threats like this; neither am I.”—Newton Mayor Setti Warren
  • “We will not be bullied by somebody who is trying to demagogue hardworking people who are often escaping violence and retribution and looking to our country as a sanctuary so that they can live in peace and raise their families.”—Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner
  • “I’m willing to risk losing every penny of federal funding to stand by our commitment to protect everyone in our community.”—Seattle Mayor Ed Murray
  • “Public safety depends on trust between law enforcement and those they bravely serve; yet, again and again, President Trump’s draconian policies only serve to undercut that trust.”—New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
  • “The NOPD’s policy on immigration complies with federal law and makes New Orleans safer because individuals are more likely to report crime, and victims and witnesses can testify without fear of being questioned about their immigration status. That’s why the NOPD will continue to focus on arresting those who commit violent crimes, not enforcing civil immigration laws.”—New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
  • “You don’t want to mess with California, because you’re going to mess with the economy, and that could blow up in your face in a gigantic recession and roll the Republicans right out of this town….We’re going to fight, and we’re going to fight very hard.”—California Governor Jerry Brown
  • “We will remain a city welcoming of immigrants who have helped make our city the safest big city in the nation. Any attempt to cut NYPD funding for the nation’s top terror target will be aggressively fought in court.”—New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

Not all officers and municipalities were equally supportive; some mayors clashed with colleagues in their own states. In Massachusetts, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson called for officials who refused to comply with federal executive orders to be arrested. He claimed that the sanctuary protections would fade “if their leaders start running into legal trouble.” Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone responded, “Come and get me…By all means expose yourself as the sort of jack-booted thug who wants to jail your political opponents for made-up offenses.”

In Louisiana, Attorney General Jeff Landry said that he has “been warning Louisiana officials that we needed to end Sanctuary Cities in our state. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost.” However, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office confirmed that “We are focused on fighting crime, and we will not move officers off the street to join President Trump’s deportation force.” New Orleans stands to lose millions of dollars in federal funding, including nearly $11.3 million in community block grants that support affordable housing and senior health and over $3 million for public safety agencies, including Victims of Crime Act and Violence Against Women Act funding.

Florida and Montana are both considering legislation that would crack down on sanctuary cities. Florida’s bill, HB 697, “prohibits sanctuary policies; requires state & local governmental agencies to comply with & support enforcement of federal immigration law,” and “requires repeal of existing sanctuary policies.”

In Montana, House Bill 611 states,

A state agency or local government may not enact, adopt, implement, enforce, or refer to the electorate a policy that prohibits or restricts a government entity, official, or employee from: (a) sending to, receiving from, exchanging with, or maintaining for a federal, state, or local government entity information regarding a person’s citizenship or immigration status; or (b) complying with an immigration detainer request or a notification request concerning the release of an individual if the request is lawfully made by the United States department of homeland security.

Montana currently contains no cities or counties that have declared themselves to be sanctuary jurisdictions.

A frequently cited Harvard CAPS-Harris poll states that 80 percent of Americans oppose sanctuary cities, but the Washington Post pointed out basic flaws in the poll’s structure. The respondents were selected based on an opt-in panel sample. According to a paper from Oregon State University, “The key characteristic of ‘opt-in panels’ is that the participant pool is not constructed with random selection. Rather, the group of participants is comprised of self-selected individuals who choose to sign up with a panel, participating at will…the representativeness of a non-random sample is always questionable.”

The same poll that claimed 80 percent of Americans opposed sanctuary cities also claimed that 52 percent of Americans supported building a wall on the Mexican border, whereas Gallup found that only 38 percent of Americans support the wall.

Fortuitously, the first-ever national convening of sanctuary cities took place in New York City on Monday and Tuesday, as the announcement and the reaction to it unfolded. Leaders gathered to “explore and develop legislative, legal, organizing and budgetary strategies to fight back together.”

Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of the political leaders of the sanctuary city movement and the first Latina New York City Council Speaker, said at the gathering, “Immigration work has always been a priority and particularly in this dire environment…the importance of these battles is to push back, to show them that they can’t get away with it.”—Erin Rubin