This post was updated Nov. 22 at 12:45 p.m.
Now that we’ve handed Donald Trump the reins to run the most powerful nation on Earth, he’s spent his time pretty much the only way he knows how to: tweeting about the most pressing issue of the day, the musical “Hamilton.”
But while he whines about the theater kids bullying him and his vice president, his proposed policies continue to demonize some of the most vulnerable among us: undocumented immigrants. And yes, that includes many UCLA students.
Trump has made his stance on immigration abundantly clear since day one of his campaign. “Build the wall” has become one of the defining slogans of modern American conservatism. Now that he’s actually in a position to helm the country’s immigration policies, he has threatened to withhold billions of dollars worth of federal grants from so-called “sanctuary cities” unless they bend to his will.
Color me shocked, but Trump is pursuing a misguided policy. Local authorities for sanctuary cities must uphold their current law-enforcement procedures to effectively promote public safety.
Like most controversial issues, immigration is complicated and messy. The symbolic term “sanctuary city” has no concrete legal definition; it basically refers to any city where local law enforcement doesn’t fully comply with federal immigration authorities.
For example, police in our own city of LA don’t stop people solely to determine their citizenship status, nor do they turn over undocumented people arrested for low-level crimes to federal authorities for deportation. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has declared that his department will continue to uphold those policies through a Trump administration and resist the President-elect’s immigration crackdown.
And it should. Trump’s scheme is not only heavy-handed, but ineffective and even counterproductive.
Sanctuary cities, however they’re defined, help promote public safety by keeping law enforcement’s focus on serious criminals and away from law-abiding immigrants. This is especially true in LA County, home to roughly 7.5 percent of the country’s undocumented immigrants, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Trump uses a very different term for these people: “criminal aliens.” He and his allies operate on the assumption that undocumented people arrested by police must automatically be deported, no matter how serious the crime. It’s great for framing an issue – who wouldn’t want to get rid of those evil foreign criminals? But the reality is more nuanced, and there are obvious complications with racial profiling and the ever-pesky due process that gum up the works.
All the “fuzzy math” – as the Washington Post calls it – in the world won’t change the fact that, for the most part, the sanctuary city system works as intended. Serious criminals face the justice they deserve, and otherwise law-abiding people charged with lower-level offenses – jumping the turnstile at a Metro station, for example – face a fair criminal justice system.
In fact, LA and most other sanctuary cities comply with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detainer requests to deport undocumented immigrants convicted of serious, violent crimes – provided that they are handled constitutionally and with respect to due process, according to a spokeswoman for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. Of course, there are always practical implications to consider as well, such as whether local jails can accommodate ICE’s potential deportees, or whether a lawsuit could arise over an illegal detention.
The University of California follows similar rules, and university leaders have been vocal over the past few weeks about their commitment to undocumented students. UCLA offers numerous financial and legal resources for them, which can be found on the Undocumented Student Program’s website. At the core of their message is that our fellow students are hardly “criminal aliens.” They’re, well, students. And they’re as deserving of the law’s protection as anyone else.
Of course, cheap demagogues aren’t really known for their well-thought out policy proposals, and Trump’s ham-fisted approach to counteract this “problem” won’t make anyone safer.
Beyond the obvious implications of making residents afraid to call or trust local law enforcement forced to detain any undocumented immigrant, cutting off federal funding to the nation’s largest economic engines won’t help anybody. It’s outrageous that Trump would even entertain the notion of depriving inner cities of funding, especially given his repeated promises to improve conditions in disadvantaged urban communities. Apparently, all these residents “have to lose” are health and education grants.
On the other hand, all Trump has to lose by letting cities maintain sanctuary policies are unjust deportations that probably wouldn’t constitutionally happen anyway.
Far be it for Trump to take advice from some random college student, but there are more humane and practical ways to handle violent criminals. The Department of Homeland Security under President Obama has gotten the ball rolling with ICE’s Priority Enforcement Program, which promotes cooperation between cities and ICE to apprehend and deport people who pose a legitimate threat to public safety.
It all comes back to one overarching fact: local police simply shouldn’t be involved in civil immigration enforcement. It’s not merely unjust, it’s bad urban policy. Police should focus on actually promoting safe and welcoming communities and enforcing local laws. Beck, Garcetti and other urban leaders have the right idea standing up to Trump’s disastrous immigration policies. It’s a complex issue, and there’s no simple black-and-white solution.
What is black and white though, is that LA is a world-class city and a global center. It must respect basic human rights and decency – even if the federal government does not.