To be or not be a sanctuary state, that is the question for lawmakers



(The Center Square) – To be, or not to be, a sanctuary state – that is the question Pennsylvania lawmakers will attempt to answer as they seek support for two diametrically opposed House bills.

A Democrat-sponsored version would limit local police assistance with immigration enforcement. A Republican-sponsored bill, in contrast, wants to prevent local governments from designating themselves as “sanctuary.”

The common thread between the two is safer communities; one side claims sanctuary policies make them safer, and the other says they threaten the safety of legal citizens.

Rep. Jose Giral, D-Philadelphia, is reintroducing legislation from a previous session that would prohibit police from spending resources on immigration enforcement and state postsecondary educational institutions from “enacting or enforcing discriminatory immigration enforcement policies.”

In a memo, Giral said, “forcing local police agencies to devote resources to immigration enforcement simultaneously makes it harder for them to investigate crimes and wastes taxpayer money.”

Giral’s office did not respond to The Center Square’s request for comment.

Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Connellsville, wants to prevent local governments from enacting sanctuary polices.

Warner told The Center Square he believes encouraging illegal immigration is dangerous, irresponsible, and insulting to those who entered the country legally.

“It is unconscionable to me that elected officials would risk our national security, and the safety of others, in order to score cheap political points,” he said, before reiterating his support for legal pathways to entering the country. “However, declaring yourself a sanctuary city by ignoring federal detainers and releasing criminals back into our communities is not my idea of sound public policy.”

Warner said the legislation will prevent what he considers flagrant disregard for federal law. It would also grant legal standing to any person injured as a result of local policies that release undocumented immigrants with a detainer – without making “a good faith effort” to contact the proper authorities.

Advocates of sanctuary policies argue that undocumented immigrants are less likely to report crimes or cooperate with criminal investigations for fear of being detained or deported.

Matthew O’Brien is the director of investigations for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a former immigration judge, former head of USCIS’ National Security Division, and former trial attorney for ICE.

He told The Center Square the arguments for non-cooperation with federal authorities are “utterly spurious” and that the organization and FAIR – a group that advocates for legal, limited immigration better to manage resources and quality of life for new citizens – have been “debunking them for ages.”

“When law enforcement tolerates violations of the law, you just get more violations of the law,” he said. “It’s the same principle behind the ‘Broken Windows’ school of policing used by Rudy Giulani and William Bratton to clean up New York City years ago.”

O’Brien added that non-cooperation policies rest on the “myth” of the “otherwise law-abiding legal aliens,” and simply don’t do any of the things that their supporters claim. The more significant issue, he said, is “cities, counties and states simply aren’t free to opt out of whatever federal laws they dislike.”

Under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, O’Brien said, federal immigration laws take precedence, and states have little authority to create their own in conflict with them, critics say. While states cannot be compelled to perform enforcement work legislatively assigned to the federal government, they may not deliberately undermine any federal regulatory scheme, either.

O’Brien said the Supreme Court has yet to resolve differences in circuit court rulings on honoring detainers, and those cases holding that state compliance with immigration detainers absent of a judicial warrant violate the 4th Amendment are incorrect.

National Police Association spokeswoman Sgt. Betsy Branter Smith told The Center Square they advocate for local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with federal authorities on immigration fully.

Smith said those entering the country illegally have already violated the law, and many have experienced sexual assault and human trafficking.

“As law enforcement, we need to be able to deal with the victims, but we also need to be able to deal with the criminals,” she said, noting that federal, local, and state cooperation – and funding – are required to do that. “I want to emphasize it is an absolute fallacy that these people live in the shadows.”

Smith described the situation as a “self-created crisis” that overburdens law enforcement and “punishes law-abiding citizens.”

“We basically have a de facto open border policy in this country,” Smith said. “We need to unhandcuff police officers and let them do their jobs.”

Of 67 Pennsylvania counties, the Center for Immigration Studies lists 15 as sanctuaries.

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