The topic of “sanctuary” cities is in the news, driven forward by the Trump administration’s threats to withhold federal funding from them.
The city of Bellingham has an established policy of “hands-off” when it comes to immigration. We want our police officers to stay focused on walking their beats, answering calls and preventing crime. We leave immigration enforcement to federal agencies and we do not agree to become an extension of federal authority.
This approach is at the heart of what many people call “sanctuary” cities. Even though the practice has been adopted by hundreds of cities and counties across the country, to many people it’s a new and controversial idea. In Bellingham, it is an established practice.
Courts of law have repeatedly upheld the right of state and local governments to refuse to take on responsibility for federal law enforcement agencies. The late Justice Antonin Scalia said such “commandeering” is prohibited. He based this opinion on the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Courts have also ruled that county jails are under no obligation to hold people suspected of immigration violations beyond their release date, based on a “detainer” from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Such detainers are potential violations of the Fourth Amendment.
Courts have said the federal government cannot withhold funding based on requirements that were not clearly spelled out ahead of time. If the new president tries to impose demands after the fact, to take away funding, it would be government overreach and in violation of the law.
Immigrants are not a financial burden to the city. All residents pay the same sales taxes, utility taxes, gas taxes and property taxes. Everyone pays the same rates and drives on the same roads, relaxes in the same parks, checks out books from the same library and receives the same water and sewer services from the city.
No refuge for criminals
Will the city be harboring criminals? No. A sanctuary city provides no refuge for criminals. Anyone accused of a violation of the Washington penal code will be arrested and held for trial. If convicted, undocumented people can expect to be deported, as they have been for years.
Shouldn’t we just mind our own business? Actually, that is the current policy, to not become entangled in federal immigration laws. We reject efforts to use local police or any other city employees to investigate, arrest, or detain people suspected of immigration violations. This “hands off” approach to immigration means that we provide the same police protection to all people in Bellingham without regard to immigration status or citizenship.
America is a nation of immigrants. Recent immigrants are our family-loving, tax-paying, law-abiding friends and neighbors. We need to remember, and govern the city accordingly.
Michael Lilliquist is the Ward 6 representative on the Bellingham City Council.