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Sanctuary Cities: Distinguishing Rhetoric from Reality

On Behalf of | Oct 8, 2017 | Firm News

Less than a week after his inauguration, President Trump signed Executive Order No. 13,768 (“Order”), threatening to “crackdown on sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal law and that harbor criminal aliens” by cutting off federal grant money.[1] This article examines the current political and legal landscape affecting sanctuary cities and the policies that define the “sanctuary city” designation.[2]

What Is A “Sanctuary City”?

There is no single, legal definition of a “sanctuary city”; rather, the designation refers generally to cities and counties that have policies—whether formally or informally adopted—that are intended to further public safety by mitigating against any deterrent effects that immigration status might have on residents’ cooperation with local law enforcement officials and by distinguishing between local police and federal immigration officials. Studies that inform sanctuary policies indicate that victims of and witnesses to crimes are less likely to come forward to report and assist with the investigation and prosecution of crimes if they fear deportation as a possible result.[3] Despite some variation, sanctuary cities share the common policy objective: to build community trust in order to “promote public safety and confidence in local law enforcement.”

What Are Sanctuary Policies?
Sanctuary policies differ across jurisdictions to accommodate local needs and priorities. Some have written policies that expressly prohibit police from inquiring about immigration status or direct local law enforcement not to comply with civil detainer requests by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to hold noncitizens for up to 48 hours to provide ICE agents extra time to take them into federal custody for deportation purposes. Others identify as sanctuary cities but have no written policies. Florida’s Miami-Dade County’s policy, until recently, was to refuse detainer requests except where the suspect had been charged with a non-bondable offense or had previously been convicted of a violent felony. Meanwhile, California’s Santa Clara County refuses to honor all detainer requests.

Several Massachusetts communities have sanctuary policies that limit local police cooperation with ICE, including ArlingtonBostonCambridgeChelseaHolyokeLawrenceNewtonNorthampton, and Somerville. Chelsea declared itself a sanctuary city in June 2007, adopting a policy that “immigration status (or lack thereof) … is not and shall not be a matter of local police concern or subsequent enforcement action by the [Chelsea Police Department] unless there exists through reliable and credible information a potential threat to public safety and/or national security.”[4] The policy only governs civil immigration matters and does not prohibit Chelsea Police from assisting with criminal matters. Lawrence adopted its Trust Ordinance in August 2015 “to increase public confidence in Lawrence Law Enforcement by providing guidelines associated with federal immigration enforcement, arrests, and detentions.”[5] Pursuant to the Ordinance, Lawrence police will not detain an individual based solely on an immigration hold or administrative warrant—or absent a warrant signed by a judge and based on probable cause—but will allow ICE officers with criminal warrants to use their facilities.

Since Trump’s election, more Massachusetts communities have galvanized to consider “sanctuary city” status. The Massachusetts Legislature also is considering a state-wide sanctuary policy, the Safe Communities Act, which would prohibit, inter alia, the use of state and local law enforcement resources or the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles record-keeping system for immigration enforcement purposes, and the arrest or detention of individuals solely on the basis of civil detainer requests or administrative warrants.[6] Police would not be prevented from pursuing immigrants who commit crimes subject to applicable federal laws and constitutional standards. Because sanctuary policies have broad support across the Commonwealth, two exceptions have attracted disproportionate press attention: in January 2017,the Republican sheriffs of Bristol and Plymouth County each signed agreements with ICE to deputize their correctional officers to detain individuals for immigration violations under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The Order
On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed the Order entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” By its plain language, the Order threatens “all Federal grant money” received by “sanctuary jurisdictions.” The Order includes several internally inconsistent and ambiguous definitions of sanctuary jurisdictions. Section 1 defines “sanctuary jurisdictions” as those that “willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal.” Section 9(a) defines the term more broadly as jurisdictions that “willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. § 1373” (“§ 1373”), which states that “a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the [INS] information regarding the citizenships or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual,” “or which has in effect a statute, policy, or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of Federal law.” Section 9(b) orders a retroactive identification of sanctuary jurisdictions based on a list to be publicized weekly including “any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers.” The Order also gives the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) unfettered “authority to designate, in his discretion and to the extent consistent with law, a jurisdiction as a sanctuary jurisdiction.”

The impact of the Order was felt immediately nationwide, with reports of decreased utilization of policehealth, and social services by immigrant communities. And cities that had enacted sanctuary policies in effort to address the very fear and community distrust the Order has revived are now faced with deciding between prioritizing community safety or abandoning their sanctuary policies to avoid potentially losing critical federal funding. In letters dated April 21, 2017 sent to nine jurisdictions, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) demanded proof of compliance with § 1373, coupled with the threat of terminating certain grants. Confronted with the Order, some jurisdictions, including Miami-Dade County, Florida and Dayton, Ohio  rescinded their sanctuary policies,[7] and other cities like Quincy, Massachusetts, have declined to adopt a proposed policy. Yet other communities chose to fight back, declaring that challenging the Order is “just as much about protecting residents as it is about protecting federal resources.”

Legal Challenges to the Order
On January 31, 2017, San Francisco filed the first lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Section 9(a) of the Order, which states: “jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. § 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary [of Homeland Security].” Other suits quickly followed by Santa Clara County and Richmond in California; Chelsea and Lawrence, Massachusetts; and Seattle, Washington.[8]  Santa Clara, consistent with its long-standing position that it does not comply with § 1373, asserted only constitutional arguments, but the remaining jurisdictions sought declarations they complied with § 1373 and therefore were not “sanctuary jurisdictions” subject to the Section 9(a) sanctions.

These cases assert the following constitutional challenges to the Order:
·       violation of the separation of powers doctrine (legislates a penalty and imposes new conditions on federal grants that only Congress can authorize and impermissibly refuses to spend funds already appropriated by Congress);
·       void for vagueness under the Fifth Amendment (fails to specify the prohibited conduct that would subject the local jurisdiction to defunding, includes no guidance on what constitutes a “sanctuary jurisdiction” subject to penalties, and has “expansive standardless language” open to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement);
·       violation of procedural due process under the Fifth Amendment (jeopardizes local jurisdictions’ entitlement to money appropriated by Congress without administrative or judicial procedure);
·       violation of the spending clause of the Tenth Amendment (imposes, without notice, vague conditions after funds have already been accepted, with no nexus between the federal funds threatened and the Order’s purpose, and uses coercive financial inducements); and
·       violation of the principles of federalism and state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment (compels local jurisdictions to administer or enforce federal immigration policies and programs through coercion, and may subject cities to Fourth Amendment liability; imposes a blanket restriction on local policymaking discretion regarding how to treat immigration status of residents and a specific restriction on the regulation of law enforcement priorities and policies to address the best interest of residents).[9]

On April 25, 2017, Judge William H. Orrick III of the Northern District of California ordered a nationwide preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Order’s defunding provision in the Santa Clara and San Francisco cases. Judge Orrick rejected the DOJ’s arguments that: (1) the claims were not “prudentially ripe” because the harms are too contingent, and the DOJ and DHS have not determined the terms of the Order, (2) there was no loss of funds or cognizable harm because neither Santa Clara nor San Francisco had been named “sanctuary jurisdictions” pursuant to the Order, (3) the Order did not change existing law, as it would be enforced only “to the extent consistent with the law,” (4) it was restricted to three DOJ and DHS “grants that are already conditioned on compliance with § 1373,” and (5) it was therefore “merely an exercise of the President’s ‘bully pulpit’” that “highlight[ed] a changed approach to immigration enforcement.” Judge Orrick wrote: (1) “[t]here is no doubt that Section 9(a), as written, changes the law” and “purport[s] to give the Secretary or Attorney General the unilateral authority to alter [§ 1373],” a power reserved to Congress, and (2) standing is established “by demonstrating a well-founded fear of enforcement and a threatened injury that is ‘sufficiently real and imminent,’” and Santa Clara and San Francisco, are likely to be designated “sanctuary jurisdictions” under the Order given their policies, and withdrawing review would result in hardship that is more than financial loss. Further, Judge Orrick found a high likelihood of success on the merits of the constitutional claims, that there was impending irreparable harm based on budgetary uncertainty and constitutional injury, and that the balance of equities and public interest squarely tips in favor of the injunction. Finally, Judge Orrick found “a nationwide injunction is appropriate” because the constitutional violations had nationwide consequences.

The Chelsea and Lawrence Lawsuits
On February 8, 2017, Chelsea and Lawrence filed their complaint, challenging the Order on the previously discussed constitutional and declaratory relief grounds. Their motivation in filing suit underscores what is at stake for many sanctuary cities nationwide.[10] Simply put: “[i]t is impossible [for a sanctuary city] to create a budget when it is unclear what effect the Executive Order will have on its funding.” The crippling consequence is especially stark in communities like Chelsea and Lawrence. Chelsea is a working-class city where over 60% of its residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, over 40% are foreign-born, and over 20% live below the poverty level with a per capita income of $21,722.00. Chelsea counts on the federal government for about 10%, or $14 million, of its $170 million annual budget. Similarly, Lawrence is a working class city where over 70% of its residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, over 35% are foreign-born, and over 25% live below the poverty level with a per capita income of $17,167.00. Lawrence counts on the federal government for over 15%, or $38 million, of its $245 million annual budget. The Order threatened large portions of these impoverished cities’ budgets because of policies they deemed necessary for their communities’ public safety. In early May, while the DOJ’s motion to dismiss was pending, Judge Orrick’s national injunction issued; the DOJ and Chelsea and Lawrence subsequently agreed to a stay, pending resolution of the injunction.

Where We Are Now
On May 22, 2017, Attorney General Sessions issued a “Memorandum on the Implementation of the Executive Order” (“Memo”), codifying arguments advanced by the DOJ at the preliminary injunction hearing. Relying on the Memo, in late May, the DOJ moved for reconsideration of the nationwide injunction in the San Francisco and Santa Clara cases. The DOJ then filed motions to dismiss on procedural and substantive grounds in the San Francisco, Santa Clara, Richmond, and Seattle cases. On July 20, 2017, Judge Orrick issued an order denying the motions for reconsideration and motions to dismiss in the Santa Clara and San Francisco cases, finding that the Memo did not impact his prior conclusion regarding standing, ripeness, and likelihood of success on the merits. Additionally, he concluded that San Francisco had stated a claim for declaratory relief.

While a nationwide preliminary injunction has been entered, many questions remain. The interplay between federal and state law regarding ICE detainers remains unclear; the constitutionality of § 1373 is still undecided; and future federal actions against sanctuary cities remain real possibilities. The Memo, purporting to narrow the definition of “sanctuary jurisdictions” and limit the sources of federal funding that are threatened by the Order, is arguably inconsistent with the terms of the Order itself, does not have the force of law, and is subject to change. It remains to be seen to what extent local policy makers are able to prioritize public safety over federal immigration enforcement without jeopardizing critical federal funding.

[1] Exec. Order No. 13,768, 82 Fed. Reg. 8799 (Jan. 25, 2017). Joseph Spector Cities Back Lawsuit to Block Immigration Order, USA Today, Feb. 17, 2017.
[2] See Benjamin Gonzalez, Loren Collingwood, Stephen Omar El-Khatib, The Politics of Refuge: Sanctuary Cities, Crime, and Undocumented Immigration, Urban Affairs Review, May 7, 2017.
[3]For example, one study found that 70% of undocumented immigrants and 44% of Latinos are less likely to contact law enforcement if they are victims of a crime for fear that the police will ask about immigration status, and 67% of undocumented immigrants and 45% of Latinos are less likely to report crimes because of the same fear. See Nik Theodore, Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement (Dep’t of Urban Planning and Policy, Uni. of Ill. at Chicago, Chicago, IL), May 201, at 5-6.
[4] Chelsea, MA, Resolution of the City of Chelsea, Massachusetts (Jun. 4, 2007).
[5] Lawrence, MA, Lawrence Trust Ordinance, Chapter 9.20 (June 8, 2015).
[6] S.1305 and H.3269, 190th Gen. Court of the Commonwealth of Mass. (Mass. 2017).
[7] As Mayor Carlos Giménez of Miami-Dade explained, “It’s really not worth the risk of losing millions of dollars … in discretionary money from the feds.” Ray Sanchez, Florida’s Largest County to Comply with Trump’s Sanctuary Crackdown, CNNpolitics, Updated Jan. 27, 2017.
[8] City and County of San Francisco v. Trump et al., 4:17-cv-00485-DMR (N.D. Cal. Jan.31, 2017), County of Santa Clara v. Trump et al., 5:17-cv-00574-LHK (N.D. Cal. Feb. 3, 2017); City of Chelsea, et al. v. Trump, et al., 1:17-cv-10214-GAO (D. Mass. Feb. 8, 2017); City of Richmond v. Trump et al., 3:17-cv-01535-SK (N.D.Cal. Mar. 21, 2017); City of Seattle v Trump et al., 2:17-cv-00497-BAT (W.D. Wash. Mar. 29, 2017), The San Francisco, Santa Clara and Richmond, California cases have been related before Judge William H. Orrick, III.
[9] See, e.g., Creedle v. Gimenez, et al., 1:17-cv-22477 (S.D. Fl. filed on Jul. 5, 2017); Commonwealth v. Lunn, SJC-12276 (decided July 24, 2017) (holding federal civil detainers unconstitutional under Massachusetts Constitution).
[10] Elizabeth Ross, How Can “Sanctuary Cities” Resist Trump? This Lawsuit Could Provide a BlueprintPublic Radio International, Updated Apr. 12, 2017.

Inez Friedman-Boyce is a partner, Jennifer Luz is counsel, and Sarah Fischer, Alexandra Lu, and Louis Lobel are associates at Goodwin Procter LLP. Ms. Friedman-Boyce is a past co-chair of the BBA Class Actions Committee and the current co-chair of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. Along with the Lawyers’ Committee, they are all counsel for the Cities of Chelsea and Lawrence in litigation pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts challenging President Trump’s sanctuary city executive order.