NEW YORK — Several cities around the country are at stark odds with the Trump administration over their role in helping enforce federal immigration law. Now, these municipalities have decided to join forces for the first-ever national convening of sanctuary cities.
"The message is that we cannot hide, even when we are under attack," said Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of the political leaders at the forefront of this sanctuary city movement and the first Latina New York City Council Speaker. The two-day conference in New York drew municipal officials as well as advocates, community organizers and policy makers.
"This is the first step in trying to formalize a coalition, remain in contact with other sanctuary cities to share resources, replicate models and get other cities to express interest. We want to continue the growth. That's my vision," said Mark-Viverito.
About 30 other sanctuary cities nationwide, from states like California, Chicago and Texas, responded to Mark-Viverito's idea.
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to cut federal grants to sanctuary cities if they do not comply with a section of federal law that allows information sharing with immigration officials.
But defenders of sanctuary cities say that is not the role of cities and neighborhoods.
"We're saying local government should focus on their local government duties because they know their communities better than the federal government," said Ana Maria Archila, co-director at the Center for Popular Democracy, who was in attendance at the national convening.
"The task at hand is for people who believe that immigrants are part of the fabric or our society," said Archila. She said her short-term goal after the national convening is to use these tools to quickly put in place strategies to protect people.
"There's a lot of urgency to protect people. I've been doing this work for almost 20 years and I never thought we would be in this situation where we constantly have to think about protecting people from the federal government. That's the reality of today," said Archila.
Other community leaders like Mizue Aizeki, deputy director of the Immigrant Defense Project, urged a focus on solutions that would contribute to humanizing immigrants and people of color under the current political climate.
"In this particular moment where we have seen immigrants, Muslims, even people of color very harshly and broadly characterized as a threat to National Security and Public Safety. This is why we are here today, to figure out through creative policies what can we do to protect people's rights as much as possible," said Aizeki.
One of the bigger issues discussed at the conference was the role of immigration enforcement actions at the hands of local authorities, according to Kara Dansky from One Thousand Arms, a former senior advisor at the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security.
According to the 287(g) provision of the Nationality Act, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can partner with state or local entities for the purpose of deputizing state and local officials to conduct federal immigration enforcement actions after receiving training from ICE.
"As far as I know, there has never been an agreement that has not been with a police department or a local jail. However, our 287 (g) provision law says there can be an agreement between ICE and any local entity, not necessarily police or local jails" said Dansky.
In theory, she said, this means that ICE could have an agreement with the any department outside local police. One of the frequently used agreements between ICE and local police is under the task force model, where ICE forms partnerships with federal police officers and them the authority to act as ICE officials and put immigration enforcement actions in place.
Some at the conference said they were running against the clock, since the Trump administration is already taking steps to make this task force model "the norm" when it comes to dealing with deportation proceedings. For many at the conference, it was crucial to establish mechanisms that would help protect families in their cities and neighborhoods.
"Immigration work has always been a priority and particularly in this dire environment," said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. "The importance of these battles is to push back, to show them that they can't get away with it."