Big-city mayors pledge to protect undocumented immigrants

Sanctuary cities, including New York, San Francisco, and, more recently, Chicago, have vowed to continue to protect the people of their cities, regardless of immigration status.

Jeff Chiu/AP
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee speaks during a meeting at City Hall by city leaders and community activists in San Francisco on Monday to reaffirm the city's commitment to being a sanctuary city in response to Donald Trump's support of deportations and other measures against immigrants.

On his first day in office, President-elect Donald Trump has promised to cut federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities – communities that have set a policy of not prosecuting residents based solely on immigration status – in order to deter continued protection of the 2 million "criminal illegal immigrants" he plans to deport.

Yet, since the election results shocked the country last Tuesday, the mayors of several prominent sanctuary cities, including New York, San Francisco, and, more recently, Chicago, have vowed to continue to serve the people of their cities regardless of immigration status and say they will not coordinate with federal law enforcement in this matter. 

“To all those who are, after Tuesday’s election, very nervous and filled with anxiety as we’ve spoken to, you are safe in Chicago, you are secure in Chicago, and you are supported in Chicago,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday, adding that government workers and police officers will not be allowed to ask about immigration status. “Chicago will always be a sanctuary city.”

Chicago became a sanctuary city in 1985, although its mayor has not always been as supportive of undocumented immigrants, as the Chicago Tribune reports. However, in a diverse city in which Mayor Emanuel has been unpopular amid fallout around his handling of the 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer, supporting the immigrant community could help to repair some ties.

Leaders in San Francisco also plan to maintain its sanctuary city status, despite the potential loss of $480 million it receives from the federal government and nearly $900 million in federal pass-through money the city receives from the state of California.

"We will always be San Francisco," Mayor Ed Lee told the Associated Press. "I know that there are a lot of people who are angry and frustrated and fearful, but our city's never been about that. We have been, and always have been, a city of refuge, a city of sanctuary, a city of love."

On Friday, New York City's Bill de Blasio was the first mayor to say that his city would continue its sanctuary policy. 

Los Angeles, which houses one million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, has kept its police force independent from the federal Immigration and Border Patrol agents since 1979, and Police Chief Charlie Beck has stated that L.A. will continue this policy.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges adopted a similar attitude.

“If police officers were to do the work of ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] it would harm our ability to keep people safe and solve crimes,” Ms. Hodges said in a statement. “Witnesses and victims of crimes won’t come forward if they think our police officers will question or detain them about their immigration status.”

But several cities, including Philadelphia, have been more reluctant to commit themselves to protecting immigrants if federal funding is withdrawn. Seattle has committed, although Mayor Ed Murray says he is "very concerned” about losing federal funding.

Opponents of the plans cite more than finances: the practice of creating sanctuary cities has been criticized as an act of "sedition" that encourages law breaking, as The Washington Post reports. Other critics have claimed that thousands of American citizens have been killed or been victims of violent crimes perpetrated by undocumented immigrants, although Politifact pointed out there is insufficient data to support these claims. 

Trump seems to have softened his once all-inclusive deportation policy to focus on undocumented immigrants with criminal records, at least at first.

"Only until all of that is taken care of will we look at what we are going to do next," Trump told "60 Minutes."

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