First DHS, now DoJ: Trump administration opens new front in legal war against sanctuary cities

“It looks like the administration is declaring war on sanctuary cities,” Fox Business host David Asman remarked yesterday, but that’s only partially true. Donald Trump declared war on the sanctuary-city movement as far back as 2015, and has repeatedly promised to prosecute it all during his presidency. Over the last few weeks, however, the Trump administration has finally started to fight a few battles in court and through regulation.

Attorney General William Barr launched a new volley yesterday:

Attorney General William P. Barr announced Monday that the Justice Department would sue two so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions — including the state of New Jersey — over policies he considers overly friendly to those in the country unlawfully, as part of a renewed effort to get cities and states on board with the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

In separate complaints filed in federal court, the Justice Department sought to block a New Jersey policy that limits how state and local authorities can share information with federal immigration officials and to stop a King County, Wash., directive that prevents immigration authorities from using an international airport there for deportations. King County includes the city of Seattle.

Barr announced the lawsuits in a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association, saying they were part of “a significant escalation in the federal government’s efforts to confront the resistance of ‘sanctuary cities.’ ” He said he also was reviewing the practice of some state and local prosecutors who charge criminals with lesser offenses to avoid deportation, and giving non-sanctuary jurisdictions priority when it comes to awarding certain grant money.

This follows moves by DHS to exclude New York from two of its traveler-convenience programs after the state allowed illegal aliens to get official identification. The justification was that DHS relies on state IDs to develop trusted-traveler programs, and deliberately allowing those already in the US illegally undermines the security of those programs for everyone else. Andrew Cuomo has threatened to sue, but Barr hints in this speech that New York won’t be the last state excluded from the program:

The department is filing a complaint against the State of New Jersey seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against its laws that forbid state and local law enforcement from sharing vital information about criminal aliens with DHS.

We are filing a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against King County, Washington, for the policy I mentioned a moment ago that forbids DHS from deporting aliens from the United States using King County International Airport.

Further, we are reviewing the practices, policies, and laws of other jurisdictions across the country. This includes assessing whether jurisdictions are complying with our criminal laws, in particular the criminal statute that prohibits the harboring or shielding of aliens in the United States.

We are robustly supporting DHS in its effort to use all lawful means to obtain the information it needs to carry out its mission. That includes the use of federal subpoenas to access information about criminal aliens in the custody of uncooperative jurisdictions. We have taken and will take all appropriate action in federal court to ensure compliance with these federal subpoenas.

Last but not least, we are meticulously reviewing the actions of certain district attorneys who have adopted policies of charging foreign nationals with lesser offenses for the express purpose of avoiding the federal immigration consequences of those nationals’ criminal conduct. In pursuing their personal ambitions and misguided notions of equal justice, these district attorneys are systematically violating the rule of law and may even be unlawfully discriminating against American citizens.

Ironically, this issue has conservatives arguing for federal supremacy and progressives arguing for state sovereignty. However, the Constitution clearly gives the federal government jurisdiction over immigration and naturalization, rather than to the states, and for pretty obvious reasons. As Barr notes, the Supremacy Clause means that federal law in an area within federal jurisdiction trumps (so to speak) state and local policies. The issue goes deeper than that, though; states are refusing to recognize legitimate federal warrants to protest policy they don’t like, which is a violation of their oaths of office.

The Washington Post attempts to indirectly justify it by attacking the policy:

Determining a link between illegal immigration and other crimes has proven difficult statistically, though some research shows that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than those who are native born.

And … so? It might not be great policy, but enforcement is still a policy decision. That decision belongs to the federal government in accordance with federal statute, and states are obliged to comply with legal orders that come from it. It doesn’t matter what overall statistics can be shown to prove except in elections where policy differences are hashed out by the voters. People who break the law — immigration or otherwise — are subject to prosecution for it. If this administration is too enthusiastic about it for some voters, they can choose another president in November. For the moment, though, Trump is president and is choosing to enforce the law according to his priorities and is doing so in an entirely legal manner.

States and cities are howling about this because sanctuary policies have long been a cost-free way to pander to progressives in their communities. The Trump administration has belatedly begun to change that calculation. It’s about time they did, so that we can stop using stunts as a substitute for actual policy debate and a better approach to immigration enforcement policy. Until those costs get applied across the board, no one has an incentive to bargain.