August 08, 2017

Complying or violating the law? The case of Sanctuary Cities

Are so-called “sanctuary cities” complying with the law and protecting its citizens?  Or are they violating the law, interfering with the apprehension of dangerous criminals, and thumbing their proverbial noses at the federal government while at the same time taking millions and in some cases billions of dollars in federal funds?

At the ABA Annual Meeting in New York, experts will address these and other questions related to the U.S. cities that are limiting the federal enforcement of immigration laws.

Sponsored by the Section of State and Local Government Law, “Sanctuary Cities – The Role of State & Local Governments in Addressing Undocumented Immigrants,” will take place during the ABA Annual Meeting on Friday, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton Midtown (Concourse Room A, Concourse Level).

The program is expected to be a hot button topic in light of recent news that the city of Chicago is suing the Justice Department, challenging the constitutionality of the department’s new policy, which withholds federal law enforcement grants from sanctuary cities.

Speakers will include Dennis Herrera, the city attorney for San Francisco, who is fighting to halt enforcement of President Trump’s executive order that would strip sanctuary cities of federal funcing; Bitta Mostofi, the assistant commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, which oversees New York’s immigration policies; and Michael M. Hethmon, senior counsel at the Reform Law Institute, where he has designed, drafted and defended immigration-related legislation and regulations in federal, state and local jurisdictions throughout the United States.

The session moderator is Ron Kramer, partner, Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Chicago, and the Section of State and Local Government vice chair.

“Sanctuary cities are a hot political topic, yet one many do not fully understand,” Kramer said.

“In his first week in office, President Trump issued an executive order condemning sanctuary cities and directing the attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security to strip ‘sanctuary jurisdictions’ of federal funds,” Kramer explained. “The city and county of San Francisco obtained an injunction to stay the enforcement of that order, but the litigation continues and now bills are pending in Congress to expressly tie federal funding to compliance with federal immigration enforcement demands.”

Kramer said the panel will address numerous questions raised by sanctuary cities: What is a “sanctuary city?”  Are they all the same?  Are sanctuary cities violating the law?  What is it the federal government expectation of local law enforcement?  Can cities detain undocumented immigrants without a warrant without violating the Fourth Amendment?  If sanctuary cities are refusing to cooperate with the federal government, why?  Constitutionally, can the president lawfully punish sanctuary cities by withholding millions, if not billions of dollars, in federal funding?  Can Congress?  Are bills pending in Congress going to pass the Constitutional muster that, so far, Trump’s executive order has not?  What might that mean for law enforcement, undocumented immigrants, and local and state funding?

“While the political left and right may jump to their respective corners on sanctuary cities,” Kramer said, “there are many practical, legal and Constitutional questions wrapped up in this vexing issue.” 

He added, “The session will delve deep into what the real issues are, what authority the federal and local governments have in this area, and how the executive order and pending legislation may impact local governments and undocumented immigrants.”

ABA co-sponsors of this program are the Commission on Immigration and Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.