AILA Opposes the “Stop Sanctuary Cities Act” (S. 1814)

The American Immigration Lawyers Association urges Senators to oppose the "Stop Sanctuary Cities Act," (S. 1814) and cancel markup of the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee currently scheduled for Thursday, August 6, 2015. S. 1814, introduced by Senators Vitter and Flake, would impose a federal mandate on state and local law enforcement agencies to detain individuals at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Failure to comply with the bill's provisions would result in localities losing millions of dollars in federal funding for law enforcement and victim service programs.

AILA President Victor Nieblas condemned the bill saying:

"The Senate leadership should be ashamed of itself for giving credence to an unconstitutional and un-American bill that will undermine public safety rather than protect our communities. Across the country, federal courts have found states and localities that held individuals based on ICE detainers in violation of the Fourth Amendment. DHS Secretary Johnson said so himself. The Senate cannot disregard the Constitution by moving forward with this bill which forces local compliance with these illegal detainer requests. No sheriff or police chief wants to be held liable for unlawfully depriving people of their freedom."

Currently, more than 300 jurisdictions decline to act on ICE detainer requests because of their constitutional infirmities. Chief Thomas Manger, President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, explained: "We can't hold them. Basically, you're falsely imprisoning an individual without legal foundation to hold them." In July, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson testified before Congress: "I do not believe that mandating through federal legislation [the] conduct of sheriffs and police chiefs is the way to go. I think it will be hugely controversial; I think it will have problems with the Constitution."

Before a local law enforcement authority can detain an individual after making a warrantless arrest, the Fourth Amendment requires that there be probable cause to believe that the law has been broken, and that probable cause must be promptly reviewed by a judge. When ICE requests that an individual be held, ICE does not obtain a warrant or seek review by a judge before issuing the detainer to a local law enforcement authority. Several courts have held that localities have violated the Fourth Amendment and can be held liable for detaining individuals solely on the basis of an ICE detainer request. Under S. 1814, jurisdictions that fail to comply with ICE detainer requests are threatened with defunding under the Justice Department's Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Program and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which fund law enforcement salaries, safety equipment like bulletproof vests, and victim services. If this legislation is passed, state and local law enforcement will be at risk of violating the Constitution.

"We all want safe communities, and that's why the Vitter bill makes absolutely no sense. Why are you trying to coerce and threaten local police and sheriffs who are doing everything they can to protect us? Senator Vitter labels them 'sanctuary cities,' but these are model community policing strategies shown to increase the likelihood of victims and witnesses coming forward and reporting crimes. If immigrants are too afraid to talk to the police, crimes will go unreported and unsolved. Senator Vitter's bill will ultimately erode public safety, rather than improve it" said Victor Nieblas.

In recent weeks, the Fraternal Order of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major Counties Sheriffs' Association, and leading mayors, counties and state associations have all issued forceful statements asking that Congress not impose mandatory requirements on them to enforce immigration law and threaten them by defunding their law enforcement programs if they fail to do so. Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl's written testimony for a recent Congressional hearing stated that inquiring about immigration status "detracts from the investigation" and "is detrimental to relations with members of our community." He said, "We must balance investigative approaches that will encourage (and not discourage) public cooperation with investigations."

Domestic violence organizations, such as the National Task Force to End Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, oppose programs that intertwine local law enforcement authorities with the activity of immigration enforcement. By requiring that local law enforcement detain individuals at ICE's request, the Vitter bill turns local police into immigration enforcement agents and makes their job harder, not easier.

"The Senate's markup of this bill is a step backward, not just for public safety, but also for immigration reform. For years, AILA has supported broad reforms to our immigration system, including a legalization plan that registers unauthorized persons, and more than two out of three Americans agree with similar proposals. In 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Since then, nothing. After years of inaction on immigration reform, Congress should not now be entertaining enforcement-only bills that provide neither a smart solution to immigration nor to fighting crime. The recent violent incidents are tragic, and Americans should call for urgent action. But it is premature to pass federal legislation that could do even more harm," said Victor Nieblas.

AILA calls upon DHS and other federal and local authorities to investigate what happened in the shooting of Kathryn Steinle and to continue the discussions we know have already begun on how best to keep our communities safe. With respect to concerns about the unauthorized population living in the U.S., Congress should redouble efforts to pass comprehensive reforms to the immigration system which will significantly reduce illegal immigration. Immigration reform would make our nation safer, bring people who are already part of our communities more completely into our society, and allow the government to prioritize enforcement against those who pose a real danger to our national security and public safety. Enactment of enforcement-only legislation like S. 1814 is not a solution. As our nation's leaders seek to respond to violent crime, AILA hopes the focus will be on solutions that protect all members of our communities.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 15080560.