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This Week in the Immigrant Sanctuary Movement: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Katherine Culliton-González

There’s a lot happening in the sanctuary movement. These are defining moments in our democracy. Today, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is expected to veto H.B. 2000, a law that would have prohibited local jurisdictions from “adopt[ing] any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” The veto is fully warranted; indeed, a wide range of policies to protect immigrants and prohibit local police from enforcing federal civil immigration law are clearly constitutional. As we wrote with LatinoJustice PRLDEF in our January 13 Sanctuary, Safety and Community report, these policies are not only permitted, but may also be necessary to avoid due process violations. Because being undocumented is a civil violation, the Supreme Court has held that local police do not have the requisite probable cause to arrest or detain persons for civil immigration violations.

The sanctuary movement continues to result in a growing number of new local ordinances—since our January 13 report, the number of county ordinances increased from just over 400 to 633. The California Senate recently passed a bill that would prohibit detention of undocumented immigrants for the federal government, and this week, the Maryland Senate will consider the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act (S. 103, H.B. 1362). The Trust Act would protect Maryland’s 911,582 foreign-born residents - who comprise over 15% of the state’s population - and protect the safety, educational opportunities and well-being of their families and communities. It passed the General Assembly by a wide margin (85-33) on March 17. However, Governor Hogan, who re-instated cooperation with federal immigration enforcement when he took office in 2014, stated that the bill was “absurd” and he will veto it.

Maryland is suddenly on the Trump administration’s radar. Very unfortunately, on March 23, two undocumented immigrants were charged with raping a 14-year-old High School student in Rockville, Maryland. They are being held without bond. The Maryland Trust Act would not stop police from prosecuting rape and other serious criminal offenses that compromise public safety. Under the Trust Act, if an undocumented person is convicted of a crime, ICE will have the requisite probable cause to secure a judicial warrant for the individual’s transfer and removal. But this did not stop Governor Hogan from politicizing the incident and alleging that the Trust Act would let rapists go free. White House Press Secretary Spicer has pointed to the alleged crime as a reason that the Trump administration is committed to its “crackdown” in federal immigration enforcement. However, as a new ICE policy issued last Friday demonstrates, the Trump administration’s desire to commandeer local officials for its “crackdown” does not prioritize deportation of convicted criminals. Instead, as CASA Director Gustavo Torres explains:

"We are living in an era in which ICE is terrorizing, racially profiling and conducting targeted enforcement in the heart of our immigrant communities.”

President Trump has effectively convinced many that all undocumented immigrants are criminals. Even the well-proven fact that immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S. citizens isn’t enough to stop conservatives from believing the opposite. Others, such as a community in Indiana, have been duped by Trump into thinking that the promise to get rid of the “Bad Hombres” means good undocumented immigrants can stay, only to find out that beloved family and community members will be deported.

This is rooted in the ugliest part of the American legal system. Since 1996, when the demographics of immigration changed and the majority were no longer white, immigrants have been made deportable for a wide variety of minor offenses. The renewed over-criminalization of African Americans, which has led to mass incarceration, also began in the 1990s. Considering this system, for sanctuary policies to be effective, they must include criminal justice reforms. Superficial policies stating that immigrants are welcome and that officials will not collaborate with ICE except in the case of “criminals” will not stop high numbers of deportations resulting from interactions with local police. Better policies requiring judicial warrants backed by probable cause for any detentions, along with policies prohibiting racial profiling and reducing criminalization of low-level offenses are needed to stop collaboration with draconian federal immigration enforcement.

Without these policies, any encounter with local law enforcement can lead to detention and deportation, despite that such activities by local police may be constitutionally questionable.

Latino families and communities are being ripped apart. Children are seeing their parents taken away when they are dropped off at school. How we respond to this crisis will define the future of our democracy.

I’m going to be on a Facebook live panel at noon today with Joanna Cuevas Ingram of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, moderated by Natasha Marquez of Voto Latino, during which we’ll discuss these issues and take questions from the audience. Today’s panel will be in Spanish on Facebook, and you can also see our prior panel in English here.