A new report by the Fair Punishment project at Harvard Law School, along with the Immigrant Defense Project and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, identifies concrete policy changes cities and states can take to protect immigrants and other oppressed communities, looking beyond ‘Sanctuary City’ ordinances and laws. The sanctuary model generally involves barring state or local law enforcement from affirmatively cooperating with federal law enforcement agencies. And while that’s important, there’s much more local activists can do to fight for immigrants.
Any time someone becomes system involved, it makes that person much more vulnerable to deportation. Just one arrest, even for a small thing like drug possession, can haunt immigrants for years—even people with documented status who are on the road to citizenship. That small thing can be even more frustrating to deal with when, for example, it’s a marijuana arrest in a state that has now legalized recreational weed.
Activists should use the report’s recommendations to shape local campaigns to go beyond sanctuary policies to defend immigrants, the poor, and people of color from system involvement that threatens individuals, families, and communities. It just so happens that the following items will also go a long way toward ending racial disparities in law enforcement and system attacks on the poor, and more generally unwinding the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States.
• End All Local Collusion with ICE. Mayors, city councils, county commissioners, and other public officials should prohibit all government agencies—particularly those in law enforcement—from working with immigration authorities. Local law enforcement should not honor warrantless detainer requests, collect information about an individual’s immigration status or place of birth, or share information with ICE beyond what federal law requires.• Do Not Enter Into 287(g) Agreements. To effectuate its policies, the Trump Administration is counting on local police to enter into 287(g) agreements that deputize local police officers as de facto federal immigration agents. Police chiefs and sheriffs must refuse to enter into these damaging agreements, which dramatically increase the Administration’s deportation capabilities and lead to racial profiling. Similarly, local law enforcement departments should not participate in joint task force operations with ICE.• Stop Asking for Cash Bail. Cash bail keeps poor people in jail for low-level crimes. That is bad policy in any context, but it is particularly dangerous for noncitizen detainees who sit in jail at the mercy of an increasingly aggressive federal deportation force. Prosecutors must stop asking for it.• Decriminalize Certain Offenses. Harsh local ordinances do not measurably serve the public good, and instead, unnecessarily expose non-citizens to deportation. Local lawmaking bodies should decriminalize low-level offenses that too often target black and brown communities. Cities should, at a minimum, create civil enforcement options for low-level crimes, which would reduce the number of arrests and decrease over-incarceration in local jails.• End “Broken Windows” Policing. Broken windows policing does not increase public safety. Instead, it leads to racial profiling of communities, over-incarceration at local jails, and increased deportation of non-citizens. It is past time for cities to abandon this method of policing. District attorneys should stop prosecuting these cases, and should, at a minimum, create pre-plea diversion programs for low-level offenses.• Consider Immigration Consequences in Discretionary Decisions. Prosecutors, who wield extraordinary power over a non-citizen’s fate, should consider immigration consequences at all stages of the criminal process, starting with the initial charging decision and lasting throughout plea negotiations. Additionally, prosecutors should work with advocates to create simplified post-conviction The Promise of Sanctuary Cities and the Need for 5 Criminal Justice Reforms in an Era of Mass Deportation procedures for non-citizens who received ineffective advice as to the immigration consequences of their conviction.• Ensure Public Defenders Have Resources to Meet Constitutional Obligations to Noncitizen Clients. The Supreme Court has held that the Sixth Amendment requires defense counsel to advise non-citizen defendants of the immigration consequences of a potential conviction. In order to fulfill this obligation, local governments must adequately resource public defender offices. Informed defenders can make all the difference in someone’s immigration case and help keep families together.• Get Police Out of Local Schools and End Probation Reporting of Youth to Immigration Authorities. When offenses occur in schools, they should be dealt with internally. Especially given potential long-term immigration consequences, it is imperative that prosecutors and law enforcement officials revisit harsh arrest policies that have been shown to disproportionately impact youth of color.