EDITORIAL: No sanctuary

Administration begins new efforts against immigrants

President Donald Trump talks to the media before he boards Air Force One for a trip to Los Angeles to attend a campaign fundraiser, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Trump’s reelection campaign is heating up, and with it is his campaign against illegal immigration. Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Matthew Albence last week announced that more agency officers will be sent to “sanctuary” cities that are defying federal efforts to prosecute and deport immigrants who are in this country without permission.

Albence didn’t give details on the deployment, such as how many officers were being deployed and where, or what they would do when they go there, nor what constitutes defiance. He did say that the officers would have special tactical training to deal with violent criminals, and he complained that cities were releasing criminal immigrants into society instead of handing them over to federal authorities.

One anonymous immigration official told The Associated Press said the deployment would include major cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco. It’s unknown if any other cities will be targeted.

Nor do we know if the focus will be on selfdeclared sanctuary cities; those are few and none are in the Rio Grande Valley, although some critics have used the term against some Valley cities and even against the entire area.

“Sanctuary” is a misnomer, as to our knowledge no U.S. city is actually providing protection for immigrants against law enforcement officers. What is known is that many law enforcement officials and legal experts across the country, including the Valley, raised concerns about the federal government’s request that local officials enforce federal immigration laws. Some said local officers only have jurisdiction authority to enforce local laws and ordinances. Others worried that immigrants would not report crimes or suspicious activity if they feared they’d be questioned about their immigration status, even if they were here legally. That, the officials said, would impede law enforcement efforts and compromise public safety.

While some U.S. cities, citing these concerns and others, have said they would not ask their police departments to ask people about their nationality or immigration status.

No Valley city has done so, and local jails add inmates’ information into national criminal databases that immigration officials can access. To our knowledge, they also inform Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials if an inmate appears to be in this country illegally.

In some cases, however, some U.S. detention centers have reported that immigration officers didn’t respond to those alerts or arrived after an inmate had been posted bail. Under due process, jail officials felt compelled to let the people go. Once people have been charged and taken all steps necessary to secure their release, local officials can’t continue to hold them without cause. Otherwise, we can’t imagine any city endangering their own residents by releasing dangerous criminals without cause.

It’s possible that last week’s announcement is merely a campaign tactic to raise support. However, in the absence of more information, we hope — and we expect — that any new initiative respects local governments and doesn’t interfere with their agencies’ efforts to protect their residents, whose safety is ostensibly the goal of this operation.