The Future of Sanctuary Cities

President Donald Trump’s campaign against undocumented immigrants goes far beyond the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. So-called sanctuary cities, ‘which is a broad term for municipalities that choose not to participate in deportation crackdown[s] they see as unjust, self-defeating and harmful to public society,’ face an executive challenge as a part of the President’s promised curbing of illegal immigration. ‘Sanctuary cities’ is not a legally official designation, but cities and towns throughout the United States and Canada have chosen not to allocate large amounts of resources to the detection and deportation of unauthorised immigrants. However, Donald Trump’s portrayal of the cities as places where, ‘immigrant criminals run amok, shielded from the long arm of the federal law,’ puts the future of these institutions in question. The fight between Donald Trump and ‘sanctuary cities’ is poised to continue long into the President’s tenure, with not only a battle between the legislative and judicial branches, but the continuation of the debate between rural and metropolitan, white and non-white, and federal versus local.

Image courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh © 2009, some rights reserved.
Image courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh © 2009, some rights reserved.

The concept of sanctuary cities in the United States to protect unauthorised immigrants began in the 1980’s, while the very concept of ‘sanctuary cities’ goes back thousands of years. As most of the ‘sanctuary cities’ are ones with large immigrant populations in large metropolitan areas, most also lean heavily democratic, which is another potential motivation behind Trump’s continuing economic pressure.

As Democratic officials scramble to choose on which issues to oppose Trump, the future of sanctuary cities seems to be one of the hot-button issues that will define the legislative and legal battle between the opposing political parties. This fight will be especially fierce, as it echoes the rural versus urban divide that existed during both the campaign and the election. Large cities, especially on the coasts, have opened up their doors for immigrants and are incidentally where most of the sanctuary cities are located. On 1 February, ‘President Trump began rolling out his plans to aggressively transform the nation’s immigration law on Wednesday, signing a pair of executive orders: one called for the start of a wall along the border with Mexico and the other demanded holding back federal money from so-called sanctuary cities.’ The president has repeatedly cited the murders of U.S. citizens by undocumented immigrants throughout his campaign, saying that, ‘We will end sanctuary cities that have caused so many needless deaths.’ The response from this executive order was quick and definitive: resist. Leaders from California to Massachusetts to New York derided Trump’s executive order, declaring that they would be fighting for their morals, no matter the funding situation, in addition to seriously questioning the legality of the order. California has seemingly taken charge of this dissent, with State Democratic Leader Kevin De Leon denouncing the order, saying, ‘These are spiteful and mean-spirited directives that will only instil fear in the hearts of millions of people who pay taxes, contribute to the economy and our way of life.’ However, in Texas lawmakers are preparing harsh punishments for municipalities that do not comply with the federal executive order. Al Jazeera reported, ‘Hundreds of protestors took to the Texas capital on Thursday to rally against the halting of more than a million dollars towards law enforcement.’

While the future of sanctuary cities seems to be in question, the liberal metropolitan support and the rock bottom approval ratings for Trump’s presidency so far give hope to many that the backlash against the executive order may even increase desire for stronger and more numerous sanctuary cities. The battle itself pits every facet of the democratic voting body against the executive order, which therefore leads to more support for the very thing that Trump is trying to undermine. It seems counterintuitive that even though a majority of American are in favour of comprehensive immigration reform, the current president represents that of a thoroughly ‘right wing’ perspective. All things considered, it is the belief of the author that Trump’s numerous executive orders, including those against immigration, banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, the construction of the wall at the Mexican border, and the threatening of federal funding of sanctuary cities will incite a strong pushback from liberals and independents alike. In addition, if Trump continues this crusade with even more executive actions, he will start to erode his own support from Republicans who push state’s rights and small government. In the current climate of Republican control in the White House and both chambers of Congress, the Democrats must choose their battles wisely, as stretching themselves too thin or misappropriating resources would be in Trump’s favour. All in all, if Democrats choose to battle for the sanctuary cities that their voters support, it would not be surprising if Trump’s executive orders have the opposite effect that they intended.

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