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Sanctuary cities and immigrants under attack

We have a friend who teaches at George Mason University in Washington DC. We were at a higher education conference together when she got a text about a student who was suddenly unable to return to school. Originally from Syria, he had been studying at George Mason with a visa. He left his pregnant wife in the US to visit family over the winter break. Now, because of Trump’s sudden ban preventing anyone from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia coming into the US, this student—whose visa was completely in order—will not be able to come back. Trump’s war on immigrants has begun.

Using another executive order, Trump has directed the Department of Homeland Security to publish a weekly list of criminal actions committed by undocumented immigrants. According to The Independent, Trump’s proposed listing is similar to the “Black Crime” vertical on, the white nationalist site formerly run by the chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon. The intention behind both lists is to deliberately cultivate a white supremacist narrative scapegoating and criminalizing black people and immigrants.

Trump’s bigoted, bullying views are on display in another executive order aimed at forcing jurisdictions that have declared themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented residents.

Over 400 jurisdictions (cities, counties, and states) have passed resolutions declaring their intention to act as “sanctuaries” for undocumented residents. What “sanctuary” means varies from resolution to resolution. The best versions of sanctuary resolutions explicitly express the intention to shield undocumented residents from deportation by refusing to cooperate fully with federal immigration authorities. Trump’s order directs the federal government to withhold all federal funds from sanctuary cities unless police cooperate with immigration officials and agree to hold undocumented residents in local jails even when charges have been dropped.

Throughout his campaign, Trump made the persecution of undocumented immigrants a signature policy goal. Echoing Trump’s rhetoric, and testing the boundaries of both decency and policy, on January 6, 2017, Lou Barletta (R-PA) introduced a bill in Congress that would stop federal funding to any jurisdictions that refuse to work with federal immigration officials. This bill, called the Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act, would stop all federal funding to any state or local government with policies aimed at preventing local law enforcement officials from working with immigration authorities. Barletta has introduced a version of the bill twice before; this was the first effort to pass such a law under the Trump Administration. Trump’s executive order on January 25 makes Barletta’s bill redundant.

Local Sanctuary Actions

Prior to the election, Thurston County and the City of Olympia have both passed resolutions regarding residents with undocumented status. The City of Olympia’s resolution states that public officials will not ask about residents’ immigration status when providing municipal services nor in the course of law enforcement. The City of Olympia will instruct employees not to respond to requests from state or federal agencies about residents’ immigration status, instead leaving such actions to federal authorities. And the City of Olympia will refuse requests that are an extension of any federal immigration policy enforcement actions, again leaving those actions to federal authorities.

Thurston County’s resolution is far less specific. Rather than commit itself to any enforceable or measurable actions in support of immigrants, the County “declares itself a welcoming community to all residents regardless of their immigration status.”

Precedent undone: it used to be that the sanction had to fit the “crime”

Prior to Trump’s inauguration, many advocates of the “Sanctuary” movement calculated the consequences of actively opposing federal immigration policies using a concept that emerged in a 1987 Supreme Court Case, South Dakota vs. Dole. In that case, the justices found that Congress could not direct the federal government to “punish” the state of South Dakota for lowering the state drinking age to 19 by withholding 5% of their federal highway funds. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court determined that Congress was using its spending power to try and encourage uniformity in states’ drinking ages (the federal drinking age at the time was 21, and South Dakota had just set a drinking age of 19). Disbursement of funds from Congress to the states should, the Supreme Court ruled, by unambiguous, related the national project or program, and not coercive—aimed at compelling a state to comply with a federal regulation.

In the face of Trump’s executive order, mayors of sanctuary cities are re-affirming their commitments to residents. Seattle mayor Ed Murray responded in this way: “we will not be intimidated by the authoritarian message coming from this administration.” Murray’s views echo those expressed by the mayors of Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, and the attorney generals in New York and California. Olympia mayor Cheryl Shelby told The Olympian that the city will stand by the resolution it passed: “I wish that this president would quit making our community so anxious. Our community can trust that our employees will continue to serve all residents regardless of their status as immigrants. We’re standing by it.” (

Strengthening sanctuary practices in spite of Federal attack

Local officials who helped to pass sanctuary resolutions, including the City of Olympia and Thurston County, deserve support for taking a step in the right direction. However, policies are only as good as their actual implementation, and much work remains to be done. Local groups are organizing to coordinate efforts to insure the City of Olympia’s resolution results in shifts in practice. Others groups are working with neighboring cities and counties to draft initial ordinances, and clearly, more work needs to be done in Thurston County to move from a soft rhetorical stance to a set of actionable policies.

Works in Progress is providing both English and Spanish version of the resolution passed by the City of Olympia on page 3. We invite those involved in efforts to resist Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and strengthen local sanctuary efforts to report on their work in these pages in future issues.

Emily and Enrique are residents of Thurston County and valued WIP members and authors.


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(Ed. Note: Peter G Peterson Foundation (PGPF) is spending a…