Dec. 13, 2016 – David W. Leopold is the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).  He has served as AILA’s top liaison to the Department of Homeland Security’s key enforcement bureaus and has testified as an immigration expert before the U.S. Congress.

The election of Donald Trump has reignited the debate over Sanctuary Cities for DREAMERs and other undocumented immigrants. Since he announced his candidacy in June of 2015, the President-elect has railed against Sanctuary Cities and falsely depicted them as nefarious zones of lawlessness where noncitizen criminals run rampant.

Don’t believe him.

In fact, Sanctuary or Welcoming Communities are focused on what local law enforcement does best — building and maintaining effective policing through public trust. Contrary to what Trump claims, a Welcoming Community’s approach to immigration enforcement is smart — ”We’ll keep our citizens safe. Let the feds take care of immigration enforcement.”

Let’s take a closer look:

What is a Sanctuary or Welcoming City?

To begin with the term “Sanctuary” is highly misleading. Sanctuary cities do not and cannot offer sanctuary from federal immigration enforcement. Rather, they simply do not expend local resources to take part in it. It’s more accurate to call them “Welcoming” communities. As recently explained by the Economist,

There is no specific legal definition for what constitutes a sanctuary jurisdiction but the term is widely used to refer to American cities, counties or states that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation by limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Some decline to use city or state tax dollars to enforce federal immigration laws. Many prohibit local officials from asking people about their immigration status. Sanctuary policies can be mandated expressly by law or practiced unofficially. Proponents say they help ensure that undocumented immigrants don’t avoid reporting crimes, seeking healthcare and enrolling in schools for fear of deportation.

In other words, Welcoming Cities are counties, cities and municipalities that do what they’re supposed to do; enforce state and local law. Police officers called to a home on a domestic dispute protect the victim; they do not ask about the person’s immigration status or demand to see papers as part of their investigation. The policy allows the abused to call the police without fear of being deported. At the same time, it allows local police to focus on community safety. Detractors might argue that the undocumented victim has no right to be in the U.S. and, therefore, local police should report him or her to ICE. But immigration law is complicated. The absence of papers doesn’t mean a person has no right to be in the U.S. The noncitizen may be a victim of illegal trafficking or eligible for protection under our immigration laws because of persecution or torture. Local police should focus on keeping communities safe, not the complicated world of immigration enforcement.

Why do Welcoming Cities refrain from devoting local resources to immigration enforcement?

The reason is simple, Welcoming Cities are properly focused on maintaining public safety through effective local policing. As Tom Manger, Chief of Police for Montgomery County and President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, explained in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

To do our job we must have the trust and respect of the communities we serve. We fail if the public fears their police and will not come forward when we need them. Whether we seek to stop child predators, drug dealers, rapists or robbers — we need the full cooperation of victims and witness. Cooperation is not forthcoming from persons who see their police as immigration agents. When immigrants come to view their local police and sheriffs with distrust because they fear deportation, it creates conditions that encourage criminals to prey upon victims and witnesses alike.

Can ICE conduct immigration operations in a Welcoming City?

Yes. A city’s decision not to spend tax dollars on immigration enforcement in no way prevents ICE doing its job. Undocumented immigrants are not protected from deportation by virtue of a state, county or city’s laws or ordinances. As long as they follow the law, federal authorities are free to conduct immigration operations within the city or on a college campus regardless of whether it considers itself an immigrant welcoming zone.

Are Welcoming Communities Breaking the Law?

No. There is nothing in the federal immigration statutes or regulations that require state and local law enforcement to collaborate with immigration agents in rounding up noncitizens for deportation. In fact Congress, recognizing that local police officers are not required to enforce immigration law, included a provision in the law which permits local authorities to voluntarily work with the feds under a memorandum of understanding. But even these agreements — commonly known as 287g agreements — have received harsh criticism for lacking in “federal oversight, diverting resources from the investigation of local crimes”, and resulting in racial profiling; particularly of Latino residents. Studies have shown that even local enforcement of immigration law under 287g agreements has threatened community safety and hurt local policing.

Welcoming cities and universities under President Trump.

With the election of Donald Trump, welcoming places, whether cities, faith based institutions or universities, have become a hot topic. The president-elect has threatened to withhold federal funds from cities that choose not to participate in federal immigration enforcement.

Trump’s bullying has been met with defiance.

In New York Mayor De Blasio declared, “We are not going to sacrifice a half million people who live among us, who are part of our community…We are not going to tear families apart.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti sounded a similar tone of resistance. He reminded Trump through a spokeswoman that Los Angeles will follow the law and protect its residents, including undocumented immigrants:

We comply with federal immigration agencies, but insist that detainer requests be handled constitutionally…It is Mayor Garcetti’s sincere hope that no president would violate those principles, the very foundation of our nation, by taking punitive action on cities that are simply protecting the wellbeing of residents.

New York and Los Angeles are joined by nearly 24 cities across the country, including Chicago; Baltimore; Seattle; Newark, NJ; and Providence, RI, all of which have pledged to maintain their welcoming status in the face of Trump’s funding threats.

Universities too are rallying to protect undocumented students, especially those who are threatened with the loss of DACA, the temporary deportation reprieve given to them by President Obama in 2012. More than 100 college and university presidents, including the presidents of Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston University, Northeastern, and Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Amherst colleges, signed a statement calling for the United States to maintain the program.

Many colleges and universities have also declared themselves safe zones for their undocumented students. University of California President Janet Napolitano, a former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, vowed last week to protect undocumented university students in California declaring, “these are people you want to keep in the country.” As with cities, there is little schools can do to prevent immigration enforcement operations on their campuses. But the law does not require colleges and universities to collaborate with ICE’s detention and deportation operations.

The protection of immigrants’ rights depends on each one of us.

Donald Trump ran the most anti-immigrant presidential campaign in history; calling for mass deportation of 11 million undocumented Americans and cancelling DACA — the temporary deportation reprieve offered to DREAMers. January 20 will mark the beginning of what may be the most virulently xenophobic administration in modern times. For the next four years the protection of immigrants’ rights will fall to communities, neighborhoods, families and individuals.

It will be incumbent upon all of us to personally stand up for and defend the rights of all Americans, documented and undocumented alike.

This article first appeared on Medium:

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