Volume 31
Issue 3
Spring '17

Current Developments in the Executive Branch: Sanctuary Cities Under the Trump Administration, the Frontlines of the Battle for Immigration

Written By: Ahmad Al-Dajani


“Sanctuary cities” is a subject of intense political and legal disagreement in the United States. It refers to jurisdictions that implement policies limiting cooperation between local officials and federal immigration authorities.1 “[N]early 300 jurisdictions as well as the states of Colorado, California, and Connecticut have adopted some form of ‘sanctuary’ policy.”2 Some sanctuary cities prohibit local authorities from questioning individuals about their immigration status. Others prohibit local authorities from honoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) detainer requests.3

On August 31, 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump delivered a speech on his immigration policy.4 The fourth item on Trump’s immigration agenda was to “end sanctuary cities” by cutting off their federal funding:

Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities.5

On his fifth day in office—January 25, 2017—President Trump signed Executive Order 13768: “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”6 Consistent with his campaign promise, Trump’s Order purported to ensure “that jurisdictions [which] fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law.”7 Within hours of President Trump signing the Order, mayors from major U.S. cities began to publicly voice their opposition.8 Officials from New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Haven, Syracuse, and Austin boldly declared their intent to fight back.9 New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to sue the Administration “[t]he minute any specific action to withhold funding were to occur . . .”10 In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced “I want to be clear: We’re going to stay a sanctuary city. There is no stranger among us . . . you are welcome in Chicago as you pursue the American dream.”11

To date, the response to the Order from major U.S. cities opposed to its implementation continues to unfold in the courts. Section I of this article explains the substance of Executive Order 13768. Section II outlines, in chronological order, the lawsuits filed in response to the Order, and summarizes the constitutional challenges to the Order asserted in those cases.

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1. Alan Gomez, A Multimillion-Dollar Question: What’s a ‘Sanctuary City?’, USA TODAY (Apr. 26, 2017), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/04/26/multi-million-dollar-question-whats-sanctuary-city/100947440/.

2. Lazaro Zamora, Sanctuary Cities and Immigration Detainers: A Primer, BIPARTISAN POLICY CENTER (Apr. 25, 2017), https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/sanctuary-cities-and-immigration-detainers-a-

3. Michael John Garcia and Kate M. Manuel, Cong. Research Serv., R43457, State and Local “Sanctuary” Policies Limiting Participation in Immigration Enforcement 2 (2015).

4. Transcript: Donald Trump’s Full Immigration Speech, annotated, L.A. TIMES (August 31, 2016), http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-donald-trump-immigration-speech-transcript-2016-0831-snap-htmlstory.html.

5. Id.

6. Exec. Order No. 13768, 82 Fed. Reg. 8799 (Jan. 25, 2017) (hereinafter “the Order” or “Sanctuary Cities Order”), available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/25/presidential-executive-order-enhancing-public-safety-interior-united.

7. Id.

8. Liz Robbins, ‘Sanctuary City’ Mayors Vow to Defy Trump’s Immigration Order, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Jan. 25, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/25/nyregion/outraged-mayors-vow-to-defy-trumps-immigration-order.html?mcubz=0.

9. Id.

10. Laura Nahmias, De Blasio, Flanked by City Officials, Threatens Suit Over Trump’s Sanctuary
Cities Order, POLITICO (Jan. 25, 2017), http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/01/de-blasio-response-sanctuary-cities-exec-order-109048.

11. Robbins, supra note 9.