The Trump administration on sanctuary cities

The Trump administration on sanctuary cities

Generally, a sanctuary city is viewed as a place where individuals without lawful immigration status may reside without undue fear of targeted raids, harassment and mass deportation.  So-called sanctuary cities do not provide immunity to those residing in the U.S. without status.  Anyone who resides in the United States without authorization is at some risk of deportation.

Designation as a sanctuary city means that state funded agencies within those cities, including police and Sheriff’s departments, will not always assist federal agencies with immigration law enforcement.  Some California sheriff and police departments have refused to hold undocumented individuals within their facilities while they await ICE detention and removal.  States are within their rights to refuse compliance with requests from federal agencies.  California is under no legal obligation to detain illegal immigrants only because a federal agency has made such request.  However, failure to cooperate with the federal government may have repercussions.  President Trump has warned that states that protect undocumented residents by refusing to assist I.C.E. or other federal agencies may forfeit federal funding.

During President Trump’s first week of office he signed an executive order to strengthen border security and immigration law enforcement and to punish “sanctuary cities” who do not cooperate with federal agencies.   California and many other states decided to push back against the Trump administration’s changes to immigration policy by further limiting cooperation with the federal government in immigration matters.   U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made concrete threats to eliminate funding for the Department of Justice in sanctuary cities.  Withholding funding to California’s Justice Department can have devastating impact on our first responders, courts, counterterrorism, and our crime-fighting and community development services.

The city of Seattle, Washington (also labeled a sanctuary city) has sued President Trump and his administration, arguing that the treats to strip billions of dollars of federal funding from “sanctuary cities” is illegal and unconstitutional.  Seattle argues that it is not illegal to refuse to hold undocumented immigrants in detention simply upon request from the federal government.  Because it is not illegal, President Trump and Attorney General Session’s threats to withhold over 4 billion dollars of federal funding from those states violates the Constitution’s Spending Clause.  The city of Lansing, Michigan on the other hand, voted to rescind its sanctuary city designation and now refers to itself as a “welcoming city.”

While the outcome of this President Trump vs. Sanctuary City battle remains uncertain, one thing is for sure: it has never been legal to be illegal in America.


Richard M. Wilner is a founding member of Wilner & O’Reilly, APLC and is Board Certified by the State Bar of California as a Specialist in Immigration and Nationality Law. He is admitted to practice law in the State of California and before the U.S. District Courts for the Central, Northern and Southern Districts of California, the Northern District of Texas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Talia Drake is an Associate Attorney at the Wilner & O’Reilly, APLC Headquarters. She is admitted to the State Bar of California, the Supreme Court of California, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and the Eastern District Court of California. Talia is a member of the American Bar Association, Los Angeles Bar Association, Long Beach Bar Association, and Orange County Bar Association.

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