'Sanctuary' cities for illegals draw ire
But dozens of cities say the policy aids police by making it easier for people to report crimes.
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Nearly 70 cities, counties, and states have enacted sanctuary policies, according to a preliminary count by the National Immigration Law Center. The Congressional Research Service in 2006 put the number at 32 cities and counties.
The plethora of ordinances and police department rules has created some confusion, even among officials in Washington.
"People use the term 'sanctuary city' in different ways, so I'm never quite sure what people mean," said Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), during a Congressional hearing earlier this month. He called "foolish and counterproductive" those policies that prevent reporting felons for deportation. But, he added, "I'm not aware of any city – although I may be wrong – that actually interferes with our ability to enforce the law."
Mr. Chertoff was responding to Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R) of Florida, who introduced legislation recently that would withhold some nonemergency DHS funds to sanctuary cities.
"Imagine that ... one of the ... 9/11 hijackers, who were in the country illegally, had a city they could reside in to plot terrorist attacks with no fear of ever being checked or deported," said Representative Brown-Waite.
Those against sanctuary cities point to a recent case in New Jersey where an illegal immigrant allegedly led an attack that killed three people. The suspect was out on bail for other indictments – despite his immigration status – and there's concern that the information hadn't reached federal immigration officials because Newark is a sanctuary city.
For its part, ICE says that while sanctuary policies won't stop its agents from enforcing immigration law in a city, it does "make it harder." Cities could be shutting themselves off to valuable ICE assistance, such as Operation Community Shield, an antigang effort that has used immigration enforcement to arrest more than 6,000 gang members. Beyond that, the Justice Department has found a technological way to rope police into immigration enforcement. In 2001, the department began adding immigration warrants into a national database once reserved for wanted felons. During any routine stop, police query the database.
"You essentially force people at the local level to act on it, because the departmental policy is if you have warrants you have to take them in," says Harris, who notes the immigration data is not of high quality. Data entered between 2002 and 2004 had an error rate of 42 percent, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute.
For Mr. Kemp, a member of the local Minutemen, the argument over federal versus local responsibilities is moot. "It's an American matter," he says. "The feds aren't doing their job period. So it's up to state and local governments to take care of this problem."
But Lieutenant Mufarreh is happy with the sanctuary policy and the better communication he says it has brought.