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Opinion: We Won't Stop Providing Sanctuary in Austin, Denver

Opinion: Sanctuary policies make our cities safer and more prosperous for all our residents, write 2 council members from Austin and Denver.
Image: Denver skyline
Skyscrapers are illuminated as sun rises over downtown Denver, CO.David Zalubowski / AP
Image: Austin
Skyline of Austin, Texas.David Sucsy / istockphoto

Within days of taking office, Donald Trump has already shown he will fulfill his anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric, announcing the federal government would cut funding to sanctuary cities, or places where local law enforcement focuses on local criminal issues rather than being forced into carrying out federal deportations.

Our cities — Denver and Austin — are homes to vibrant and diverse immigrant populations who are an integral part of the fabric of our communities and our economies. We have sworn oaths to serve and protect all of our residents and have worked hard to welcome immigrants, particularly in fostering trust between our communities and local law enforcement.

Image: Denver skyline
Skyscrapers are illuminated as sun rises over downtown Denver, CO.David Zalubowski / AP

In anticipation of such a damaging move, we pledged to stand by our city’s policies, and we reaffirm that pledge today.

The fact is, sanctuary policies make our cities safer and more prosperous for all our residents. When the federal government forces local police departments to be immigration enforcers, it erodes their trust in public safety services. As a result, fewer crimes are reported and fewer witnesses testify in court. Fear, in short, makes it harder for police officers to do their job. That is why so many law enforcement agencies – including local police, sheriffs, and corrections departments – have refused to sign up for programs that essentially transform local police into federal immigration agents.

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We are prepared to vigorously uphold our duty to protect and serve our residents, and to fight the Trump administration’s misguided threats or future policies – and we have the law on our side.

The plain language of the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution and a well-established series of decisions from the Supreme Court prohibits the federal government from dictating local policies to cities and states except where it pertains narrowly to how we use their funds. Just a few years ago, the Supreme Court held that the government could not force states to expand Medicaid programs as part of the Affordable Care Act, ruling the provision overly intrusive.

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Moreover, courts have found that keeping people in custody because of a mere request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unlawful search and seizure. In this country, the Constitution requires warrants, supported by probable cause, before depriving a person of their liberty. Presidents cannot ignore the Constitution or the decisions of our courts in the United States.

It’s these legal concerns, along with moral and ethical concerns, that have convinced so many municipalities to keep local police departments out of the federal deportation business.

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Beyond this particular threat, separating parents from children and spouses would be a tremendous blow for our cities, putting severe strain on safety net services in our cities. Which is why we will closely monitor and be prepared to challenge all deportation policies in the months to come – even if they do not involve our local governments. And it is why we still support for a path to legal residency or citizenship for hard-working individuals who have paid their taxes and contributed to their communities.

In Austin and Denver, we will continue to defend policies that promote more cooperation between residents and public safety agencies – not less. And we will be standing with hundreds of other cities and counties, large and small, who have advanced and are continuing to advance policies to protect their residents.

Trump’s funding cuts are unconstitutional and un-American. We stand on the right side of the law, and we know history will prove us right.

Greg Casar is a former community organizer and the youngest person elected to serve on the Austin, Texas City Council.

Robin Kniech is an At-Large City Councilmember in Denver, Colorado.

Kniech and Casar are Board Members of Local Progress, a national network of local lawmakers devoted to inclusive and sustainable cities.

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