U.S. Cities Provide Sanctuary to Illegals

A friend once told me how his father, who had married an English woman after WWII (search) and decided to stay in the United Kingdom, was required to report to the local police station every six months until his residency had been approved, and periodically even after that.

It took more than one year for his residency to be approved, and out of sheer forgetfulness, my friend's father failed to check in with the police about a year after he filed his application for residency. Six months and one day after his last visit with the local police, my friend's father and wife heard a knock on their door. It was a policeman. "I'm sorry to bother you," the policeman said, "but tomorrow would you please stop by the station and make sure all your information is up to date?"

Things like this can occur in a place like the United Kingdom because it insists on a single, national jurisdiction over immigration (search). We've had the same thing here in the U.S. since 1798, when Congress claimed for itself sole power over immigration to the United States. That's why, for instance, Maine cannot decide on its own to remove a non-citizen. But you wouldn't know that today, when city after city promulgates their own rules that prevent the federal government from enforcing our immigration laws and removing non-citizens who have no legal right to be here. These rules have come to be referred to as sanctuary policies (search), and the cities that employ them sanctuary cities (search).

Any immigration lawyer who has been practicing long enough will tell you that people who are in the U.S. with no legal immigration status know the locales where they are least likely to be apprehended by immigration authorities and where they can resort to public services without fear of being found out.

Since 1996, it has been illegal for states and municipalities to take any action that prevents the reporting of illegal immigrants to federal immigration authorities. On July 23, the New York Times (search) ran a 1355-word article (which used the term "illegal alien" exactly four times) on New York City's response to a recent Federal Court ruling that compels the city to change a policy it has had for more than a decade. That policy prevented city agencies from reporting illegal aliens (search) to federal immigration authorities.

But rather than do what the court has stated he must, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (search) has developed a new policy -- city agencies now won't inquire as to a person's immigration status except in the most extraordinary circumstances. The goal is for the city to have nothing to report.

Mayor Bloomberg's new policy, which is mimicked in major cities throughout the country, seems ironic coming from a mayor who never stops complaining that the city pays too much money to people injured on its poorly-maintained sidewalks. In December 2002, a wife and mother of two was overpowered near Shea Stadium by five men who sexually assaulted her over a period of hours. Every one of the perpetrators are reportedly illegal aliens, and four of them had been in the custody of the New York City Police Department before the rape but were released rather than being turned over to INS (now BCIS) Investigations.

If mayors whose cities employ sanctuary policies are truly concerned with exposure to lawsuits, they might reconsider their sanctuary policies and do what the law requires: report illegal aliens to federal immigration authorities.

The days of the sanctuary policy might be numbered. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo. (search), has offered an amendment to two appropriations bills that would bar federal funding to states and localities that restrict any government agency from sending information to, or receiving information from, federal immigration authorities regarding an individual's citizenship or immigration status.

Though many are bound to complain that the effect of the amendment would be to deprive cities of much needed law enforcement money, the opposite is probably true. If the city does what the 1996 immigration law requires, and does not take measures that would prevent the city from informing immigration authorities of illegal aliens in their custody or using their public services, the funding will be available.

"Is every city in America going to establish its own immigration policy?" asks Tancredo. "We pretend that we have a single immigration law, and in fact, we do. But sanctuary cities are in effect creating many different immigration jurisdictions. There are cities in America where having no legal immigration status is meaningless." When it was last put to a vote, Tancredo's amendment picked up another 20 votes, showing that this common sense measure is picking up momentum.

But in places like New York, where Mayor Bloomberg continues to circumvent the clear obligations of the 1996 immigration reforms by employing a "don't ask, so we have nothing to tell" policy, it will only be the inevitable $40 million plaintiff's verdict against the city (which will come from the Shea Stadium rape case or some similar tragedy) that will open eyes.

Matt Hayes began practicing immigration law shortly after graduating from Pace University School of Law in 1994, representing new immigrants in civil and criminal matters. He teaches at Berkeley College, and is author of The New Immigration Law and Practice, a textbook to be published by West Legal Publications in October, 2003.

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