The U.S. government’s suit against California over its “sanctuary” laws for immigrants, filed on Tuesday night, may presage further action against New York City and other local governments pursuing similar policies.
While New York City does not offer the broad protections afforded by California’s statutes, and are not now under challenge, the city is no stranger to policy conflict with the federal government.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, challenges the constitutionality of three statutes that limit law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with immigration authorities, prohibits private companies from cooperating with immigration agents in certain cases and authorizes the state attorney general to inspect immigration detention facilities.
“We are going to fight these irrational, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you and our federal officers,” said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday at a meeting of the California Peace Officers Association, according to prepared remarks. “We are fighting to make your jobs safer and to help you reduce crime in America. We are fighting to have a lawful system of immigration that serves Americans. And we intend to win.”
The suit against California is the latest attack by the Trump administration against so-called sanctuary cities.
In January, the Justice Department announced that New York City, California and 22 other jurisdictions that it subpoenaed for records related to their compliance with a federal law promoting information sharing between local agencies and federal immigration authorities. Noncompliance with the statute, the Justice Department said, could be grounds for the department to pull federal grant funding to the cities.
California and the cities of Chicago and San Francisco last year filed legal challenges against the Justice Department over its threats to cut off federal funding.
While the New York state Assembly passed a bill last year to designate New York as a “sanctuary state,” New York does not have statewide sanctuary policies in place like California.
Additionally, California’s sanctuary laws offer a broader array of protections for immigrants than those offered in New York City, which are not currently the subject of a legal challenge by the Justice Department, a department spokesman confirmed on Wednesday.
Camille Mackler, director of immigration legal policy for the New York Immigration Coalition, pointed to California’s statute preventing private employers from allowing immigration agents into nonpublic areas of their area or allowing the agents to pore over their employee records without first obtaining a warrant, which does not have a counterpart in New York City.
New York City has a law in place prohibiting it from entering into cooperation agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents that allow the federal agency to deputize local employees, but retains a policy of sharing information with immigration authorities in cases where the city is holding an individual who has been convicted of any of approximately 170 qualifying violent or serious crimes.
But regardless of the policies, Mackler said, “it’s just not possible to put a bubble” over the city and prevent ICE from coming in, noting that ICE has ratchet up enforcement in the city since President Donald Trump took office.
“Clearly their ability to enforce the law is not being hampered,” Mackler said.
ICE made more than 111,000 arrests between Jan. 20, 2017, and Sept. 30, a 42 percent increase from the same period in 2016.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that New York’s sanctuary laws ensure that local law enforcement is not being used as a tool for ICE, that authorities are not “playing fast and loose” with due process and that immigrants are not being wrongfully detained.
“One of the things we all know is there [are] many, many good people who are vulnerable to the deportation machine, who have been targeted by it, who should just not be,” Lieberman said. Arrests by ICE agents at New York courthouses—which jumped more than tenfold to roughly 130 in 2017 over the previous year—have raised the concerns of many in the legal community, who say conducting immigration enforcement activities in the halls of justice could dissuade victims and witnesses from appearing.
Last month, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. appeared together to call for ICE to cease the courthouse arrests.
Outside of New York City, some cities like Rochester and Syracuse have enacted policies limiting local cooperation with federal immigration officials, while other law enforcement agencies have shown a willingness to work with ICE.
In January, the sheriff of Rensselaer County signed an agreement with ICE to take part in its 287(g) program, in which his department is deputized to detain suspected illegal immigrants. Rensselaer County is the only New York county with such an agreement; Albany County’s sheriff also applied to take part in the program, but later withdrew the application.