By Jenny Beth Martin
Published February 26, 2020
The ruling Wednesday by a federal appeals court allowing the federal government to withhold grant money to so-called “sanctuary” states and localities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities is an important victory that will help protect the American people from dangerous illegal immigrant criminals.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling conflicts with the rulings of three other federal appellate courts, which had ordered the federal government to continue awarding grants to sanctuary states and localities. As a result, the question of whether the aid can be withheld may have to be settled by the Supreme Court.
But even if federal grants to sanctuary jurisdictions are barred, this should be just the first step in cracking down on states and localities for flagrantly violating federal immigration laws.
These state and local governments don’t deserve taxpayer money when their sanctuary policies endanger the public and undercut law enforcement. Congress should now pass legislation that allows the victims of crimes committed by released illegal immigrants to sue for damages.
When sanctuary jurisdictions ignore federal immigration laws there are real costs – with real victims. But two North Carolina Republicans – Sen. Thom Tillis and Rep. Ted Budd – have introduced legislation in Congress that would end the status of those victims as voiceless casualties of misguided state and local government policies.
The lawmakers’ bill, titled the Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act, tackles the problem of sanctuary jurisdictions from a new and different angle. It could finally be the legislation needed to break the policy conflict logjam for the first time in decades.
Ever since the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted its City of Refuge resolution in 1985, the federal government has had to deal with the problem of sanctuary jurisdictions – localities and states that declare they will not allow their own legal authorities to cooperate with the federal government’s attempts to enforce immigration laws.
That’s almost 35 years of unconstitutional behavior, with the federal government trying and failing to stop the growth of the sanctuary movement.
Let’s begin with the obvious: the sanctuary movement is unconstitutional and therefore illegal.
Article VI, Clause 2 of the Constitution – known to legal scholars as the Supremacy Clause – states: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”
There are two keys in that clause: First, that “This Constitution, and the Laws … made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” And second, that “Judges in every state shall be bound thereby,” any state constitution or law notwithstanding.
So federal law is the supreme law of the land. That applies everywhere. All judges everywhere, including state judges, are bound by that fact.
Yet sanctuary jurisdictions – beginning with San Francisco in 1985, and spreading to more than 500 jurisdictions by 2018, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform – violate the Supremacy Clause every day. They do this by refusing to honor legal detainer requests from federal authorities and instead releasing violent criminal illegal immigrants into the general population, where they can commit mayhem at no cost to the sanctuary jurisdiction.
For decades, under the administrations of both political parties, the federal government has tried to get sanctuary jurisdictions to reverse their policies, to no avail. Under President Trump, the federal government has even threatened to withhold federal grants to force compliance – again, to no avail.
Enter Tillis and Budd, two crafty legislators with a different idea. Their new approach hits state and municipal governments in their wallets.
Their proposed legislation – introduced in the House by Budd as H.R. 3964, and in the Senate by Tillis as S. 2059 – holds sanctuary jurisdictions responsible for the damage they cause by not complying with lawful detainer and release notification requests made by federal law enforcement authorities.
The legislation creates a private right of civil action, so a private citizen would be able to sue a sanctuary jurisdiction for damages caused as a result of a violent crime committed by an illegal immigrant released by the sanctuary jurisdiction.
The two lawmakers introduced the bills last fall. The legislation got new attention when President Trump used his State of the Union address to highlight terrible stories of crimes committed by violent illegal immigrants who had been released by sanctuary jurisdictions.
President Trump also promoted the legislation itself, saying: “The United States of America should be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans, not criminal aliens.” That gave the legislation new traction.
If individual citizens are free to sue state and city governments for the damages caused by the violent illegal immigrant criminals now being released, those state and city governments will have to think twice about whether it makes sense for them to maintain their current sanctuary policies.
And if voters find out that their state or city leaders are paying off lawsuits with their taxpayer dollars – rather than reversing their dangerous sanctuary policies – there might be electoral consequences to consider.
The Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act would simultaneously restore the rule of law, empower victims of crimes to pursue restitution, and force reckless jurisdictions to feel the devastating effects of their lawbreaking. This is precisely what has been missing in the immigration policy realm. For all of its merits, the legislation deserves speedy action in Congress.