How the President’s New Priority Enforcement Program can help solve the Sanctuary City Problem

Recently, the media and politicians have used the term “sanctuary city” as both a sword and a shield, both as a standard to strive for and as a pejorative. But much like the term “amnesty” that has been used very similarly of late, “sanctuary city” has no fixed and agreed upon definition. What is commonly accepted is that a “sanctuary city” refers to a state or local government that has policies that in one way or another refuse to fully cooperate with the efforts and requests of federal immigration officials. Some of these cities will refuse to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in any form or fashion (San Francisco) and others simply ban their employees from inquiring about a resident’s immigration status.

The philosophy behind sanctuary city policies are both fiscal and ideological, emotional and detached. Should local law enforcement care about enforcing federal immigration laws over which they have no jurisdiction? Should local governments care about the immigration status of a child enrolling in school when they will accept the child regardless of their status? These are all issues ripe for debate, but one thing is clear, these policies come about in localities where there is a distrust of and poor communication between federal immigration officers and local officials.

State and local budgets are tight enough without having locals take on the additional responsibilities and costs associated with enforcing immigration laws and proactively assisting federal immigration officers. Undocumented and even legal residents are apprehensive about interacting with local law enforcement when the locals start asking questions about immigration status.

Proponents of sanctuary city policies point to the soon-to-be phased out Secure Communities Program as the genesis of the distrust by residents and locals of the federal immigration enforcement machine. Secure Communities was originally designed to help ICE identify and consider detaining and removing every non-citizen who was arrested and fingerprinted in any jail in the United States. The dreaded ICE detainer has caused fear and apprehension in many non-citizens.

Last Fall, the president and DHS Secretary Johnson announced Secure Communities would be replaced with a new program. This new PEP or Priority Enforcement Program is designed to try and be that happy medium between the “draconian” Secure Communities Program and San Francisco’s anti-ICE policy.

Under the PEP program, there are no more detainers that lead to mistakes and liability for local tax payers, only requests for notification where by the locals simply notify ICE when they are about to release certain non-citizens from local custody–ICE can do what they want with the information and person at that point. What’s important to remember is that the PEP program does not apply to non-criminal traffic stops and only applies when a noncitizen is arrested and jailed on a non-immigration related criminal offense.

Some sanctuary cities have the right idea, protect tax payers’ money by limiting liability, keep local law enforcement focused on their sworn duties-local law enforcement and not federal immigration issues, and encourage fearful non-cirtizens to cooperate with law enforcement without the risk of being turned over to ICE unless they themselves have committed a crime.

Hopefully this new program will remove the fear, increase trust and communication between the state, local and federal law enforcement partners and allow law enforcement to do their #1 job, keeping our communities safe.

John Gihon is Board Certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Florida Bar. John is a partner with the law offices of Lasnetski Gihon Law and passionate about crimmigration law.

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