Posted in Immigration on October 12, 2017
Shoplifting is taken seriously in U.S. stores. They will prosecute individuals for even the smallest of theft offenses. For immigrants, shoplifting represents a real deportation risk. While not all shoplifters face deportation, the act will increase the likelihood of immigration issues. An arrest alone can warrant a residency adjustment denial. A conviction can, in certain cases, result in deportation.
Admissibility and Immigration
To maintain residency status and qualify for citizenship, immigrants must demonstrate a “good moral character.” Shoplifting is a “crime of moral turpitude” that can jeopardize someone’s good moral character and immigration admissibility. If you receive a theft conviction or admit to shoplifting, you may lose your admissibility status and face an increased risk for residency application denials and deportation.
A “petty theft exception” protects many immigrants from severe immigration consequences for small crimes. If you receive a petty theft conviction with a maximum sentence of one year in jail and you do not have to serve the full sentence, you may remain admissible. If, however, a conviction warrants a maximum sentence of longer than one year, you may face immigration consequences regardless of your actual sentence.
You will not qualify for the petty theft exception if you receive a theft conviction of any kind in your first five years in the U.S. In some cases, immigration authorities can elevate even minor shoplifting charges from a misdemeanor to an aggravated felony, eliminating the possibility of an exception and increasing the likelihood of deportation.
The laws surrounding admissibility and petty theft exceptions are confusing, because they involve elements of both criminal and immigration law. Discuss your case with an attorney who specializes in in criminal defense and immigration to protect your rights under current state criminal statutes and federal immigration laws.
What to Do if Someone Accuses You of Shoplifting
Unfortunately, innocent, legal immigrants sometimes face shoplifting accusations. The arrest alone can create hurdles for law-abiding residents. A false conviction can have far-reaching repercussions for those trying to remain in the country and achieve citizenship. If you or someone you know faces a shoplifting accusation, take the following steps:
- Remain silent. Do not admit to or sign anything while in the store or when the local authorities show up to arrest you. You do not have to say anything.
- Ask for an attorney. Contact an attorney who specializes in immigration matters as soon as possible. An attorney will help you understand the charges and protect your rights. The sooner you start working on a defense strategy, the better. Many stores today rely on surveillance to reduce shoplifting incidents. A video recording can exonerate innocent shoppers of unreasonable accusations. If you did make a mistake and took something from a store, your attorney can pursue a petty theft exception or another defense strategy to reduce immigration repercussions.
- Avoid future encounters. After a shoplifting arrest or conviction, take steps to avoid future encounters with the law. You may avoid deportation after one minor arrest or conviction, but multiple arrests/convictions can jeopardize your protections.
The bottom line is that no amount of shoplifting is “safe” for immigrants in the United States. Avoid taking anything you have not paid for or associating with individuals who may commit a crime. While deportation isn’t automatic, shoplifting arrests and convictions will place your immigration status under a spotlight.
If you do face shoplifting charges, act quickly to protect your rights. An experienced attorney can help you avoid the sometimes-permanent immigration consequences of shoplifting.
Posted in Immigration on October 12, 2017
At the end of August, Hurricane Harvey displaced around 13 million people in Texas and Louisiana, including citizens and undocumented residents. Houston alone is home to an estimated 600,000 undocumented immigrants who are struggling with how to handle the aftermath of the storm. The massive storm made history. It caused catastrophic flooding and damage that will take years to remediate. As locals begin picking up the pieces, this is what immigrants should know.
You Have Options for Support
While undocumented immigrants may not qualify for certain types of support, they can access other community resources without fearing reprisal. Local shelters, food banks, and other community outreach programs are not looking for documentation. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and border patrol units are not looking for people to deport. Right now, all authorities are focusing on helping everyone impacted by the hurricane. Community resources for undocumented immigrants include:
- FIEL (translated: Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle) specializes in immigration services. The organization held a fundraiser on September 23 specifically to support the recovery of undocumented residents in the Houston area. FIEL is currently offering recovery support and always offers education and immigration support in the local Latino community. Immigrants interested in learning more about the organization can contact the main office at 713-364-3435.
- The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston also offers immigration and education support throughout Houston. The organization is currently accepting donations to help undocumented families who were affected by the hurricane. It serves people from all faiths and backgrounds. Those in need can reach the organization at 713-526-4611.
- The City of Houston’s Office of New Americans and Immigrant Communities. The local office has created resource pages for hurricane-affected undocumented and documented immigrants. The guide contains information on shelters, transportation, undocumented immigrant support, and more.
- If you have a minor who has a valid Social Security number, you may qualify for FEMA assistance. The national relief agency will not question the immigration status of other household members. To apply, you can visit the assistance website or call 800-621-3362. The agency can also provide contact information for other agencies and assistance programs that may provide support to undocumented immigrants.
These resources represent only a small fraction of the outreach groups available to undocumented immigrants. As the recovery process begins, immigrants can trust many people and organizations within the local community for support.
Hurricane Support and Immigration Risks
Immigration agencies are not actively looking for undocumented residents, but that does not mean undocumented immigrants have the same rights as citizens. Certain individuals may look for reasons to create immigration problems, and authorities will take immigration-related actions against those accused of crimes. However, the vast majority of aid organizations, law enforcement officials, CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officials, and ICE officials want to help those in need rather than deport them.
If you experience immigration problems while seeking hurricane aid, request attorney representation. An attorney who understands the current state of immigration and the hurricane relief efforts will protect your right to shelter and support.
As the recovery process ramps up, we’re trying to spread the word – if you need help, seek it. Go to local shelters and do not worry about your immigration status. We are all Houstonians and we are all working to support each other in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Posted in Immigration on September 15, 2017
With hashtags like #defendDACA and #StandWithDREAMers circulating around social media, it’s hard to miss the news that President Trump has opted to repeal DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The White House announced that DACA, a program the Obama administration created in 2012, is illegal and will end after a six-month grace period wherein Congress has a chance to respond. The announcement has sent thousands reeling in an effort to understand what this might mean to young immigrants.
What DACA Does for Undocumented Immigrants
DACA protects young undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them illegally into the United States as children. DACA currently protects an estimated 800,000 people that qualify for the program, allowing them to live in the U.S. without fear of immediate deportation. DACA allows these young people – called “DREAMers” after the DREAM Act – to work legally in the U.S. Every two years, qualifying candidates in the program must reapply for deferred action from deportation and work permits. Note that deferred action does not mean lawful status.
On June 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rescinded former President Obama’s attempt to expand DACA to cover additional immigrants. The DHS continued to review the DACA program as a whole, until President Trump announced the White House’s intention to rescind DACA on September 5, 2017. Congress will have six months to come up with a solution for the DREAMers that were previously eligible to remain in the country thanks to DACA.
What the Repeal Could Mean
As of September 5, 2017, the DHS will not accept any new initial requests for DACA or associated applications. Previously, individuals could qualify for deferment under DACA if they were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, came to America before the age of 16, and lived continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007. Individuals also needed a high school diploma, GED certification, to still be in school, or honorable discharge from the military. DREAMers also cannot have criminal records.
Should the DACA repeal come into effect, thousands of people will lose their jobs in the U.S. Estimates show about 30,000 people losing their jobs each month as DACA work permits expire without hope for renewal. The roughly 800,000 people in the program will become eligible for deportation. Almost 2,000 national leaders, including eight governors, have signed a letter asking Trump to rethink the repeal of DACA and protect the DREAMers, stating that candidates involved in the program have “enriched and strengthened our cities, states, schools, businesses, congregations, and families.”
President Trump’s plans to dismantle the DACA program have led to numerous protests around the country. Mr. Obama spoke out against the decision, calling it “cruel” and “self-defeating.” Some researchers believe the end of DACA will hurt the economy, while others see it as a chance to give work to others. It is now up to Congress to come up with an answer to the country’s immigration legislation in regard to young people whose parents brought them illegally into the country. Until then, America’s DREAMers will have to live in uncertainty as to their fates.
Posted in Immigration on September 12, 2017
Due to recent political changes, the climate in Texas has buzzed with controversy. Adjustments to immigration laws have left thousands confused about their rights as documented or undocumented immigrants. When Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill in May, 2017, that would ban sanctuary cities, it caused a great rift within the state. Although a federal judge blocked this ban as of August, 2017, activists still fear for its passing and subsequent consequences in the future. One such consequence could amount to an enormous toll on Texas’s economy.
The Role of Sanctuary Cities in Texas
“Sanctuary city” is the name lawmakers give cities that restrict cooperation with the federal government in regard to immigration laws. These cities help keep immigrant families together and reduce fear of deportation among undocumented immigrants. Sanctuary cities aim to protect immigrants with laws prohibiting law enforcement from detaining and questioning people in certain situations. Several sanctuary cities still exist throughout Texas, despite the passing of a statewide measure that is striving to ban the practice.
Thanks to the state’s sanctuary cities, Texas’s economy has benefitted from millions in state and local taxes from undocumented immigrants and billions in gross domestic product. The top 10 industries that benefit from undocumented immigrant labor include agriculture, construction, hospitality, and manufacturing. Losing the workers in these mainstay industries could be detrimental to the state’s economy. Yet this is exactly what the new legislation proposes – a ban on Texas’s sanctuary cities.
Potential Losses from Senate Bill 4
Senate Bill 4, the Sanctuary Cities Law, moves to make it a criminal offense for cities and counties to adopt policies that limit immigration law enforcement. SB 4 would also allow police to question the immigration status of any individual they detain or arrest. City officials who violate the laws of SB 4 would face fines, potential jail time, and loss of position. Before its block by a federal judge in San Antonio on August 30, 2017, this bill would have gone into effect September 1, 2017. The federal judge’s ruling is only temporary while a lawsuit against the Bill remains underway. The State of Texas plans to appeal the federal judge’s decision.
Should SB 4 eventually pass, the state could lose billions. The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the 2015 American Community Survey collected data that shows Texas could lose around $223 million in taxes and at least $5 billion in gross domestic product with the passing of SB 4 and the banning of protections for undocumented immigrants. These estimates are only if 10% of undocumented immigrants in Texas were to leave or face deportation – a figure that the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance group calls “conservative.”
A coalition of Houston business leaders estimates the potential losses at $9.2 billion. Many industries are already reporting losses of immigrant workers as they move to neighboring states such as Oklahoma and Louisiana. The disappearance of 10% of undocumented immigrants in the state – about 95,000 workers – could be detrimental to Texas’s current and future economy. Researchers say the ripple effect of the SB 4 legislation could ultimately cost the state upwards of $13.8 billion. While federal judges still consider the constitutionality of SB 4, Texas business leaders prepare for a future of potential economic losses.
Posted in Immigration on August 21, 2017
The International Entrepreneur Rule is a piece of proposed legislation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to encourage the immigration of foreign entrepreneurs into the United States. Courts finalized the rule, which was set to go into effect on July 17, 2017 – until the Trump administration passed an order delaying its initiation. The White House aims to eventually shut down the rule altogether in the face of tumultuous immigration laws and bans.
About the International Entrepreneur Rule
The International Entrepreneur Rule first appeared in the Immigration Accountability Executive Action in November 2014 under the Obama administration. With this rule, the U.S. would grant temporary parole to certain foreign entrepreneurs who want to enter the country with the goal of building businesses. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would regularly monitor their progress and decide whether they meet the criteria to remain in the country. The rule would result in an close-to 3,000 qualified immigrants entering the U.S. every year.
Supporters of the International Entrepreneur Rule believed it would create jobs in the country and add a distinct public benefit, thanks to bright, entrepreneurial minds from around the world. Several studies show the benefits of allowing entrepreneur immigrants into the country outweigh the costs. For example, immigrants founded or co-founded 44 U.S. startups that were worth at least $1 billion in 2016. The potential positive impact of foreign entrepreneurs on the U.S. economy put many in support of the bill – especially tech companies that rely heavily on immigrant business owners and startups.
President Trump’s Recent Order on the Rule
On July 10, the Department of Homeland Security made an announcement that officially delayed the effective date of the International Entrepreneur Rule. The DHS stated that the delay would give it the chance to gather comments from the American public regarding a proposal to completely rescind the rule. Per the announcement, the effective date for the rule has moved to March 14, 2018. The DHS is inviting written comments regarding the rule via the website http://www.regulations.gov as well as via mail to the USCIS.
The delay to the rule comes after President Trump’s January 2017 executive order, Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. This order requested improvements to border security and more stringent immigration law enforcement. After a review of the order, the DHS made the decision to delay the effective date of the Immigration Entrepreneur Rule with one exception. The exception comes in the form of the Department of State Consular Report of Birth Abroad provision.
The DHS states that it has “good cause” to immediately delay and possibly rescind the rule without waiting for comment because “notice and comment rulemaking would go against public interest.” The Department stated in the announcement that any action other than immediately delaying the effective date could waste limited agency resources and create regulatory confusion. The announcement sparked considerable controversy, especially among business leaders and organizations in the technology sector.
The Future of the Rule
The future of the rule is at stake due to the federal government’s intention to eliminate it altogether. As of today, the International Entrepreneur Rule is on hold until at least March 2018. Between then and now, the Trump administration will continue taking public comments under consideration.
Posted in Immigration on August 14, 2017
The U.S. Supreme Court recently came to a unanimous decision to let parts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban take effect until the court can decide on the rest of the measure’s legality. In October, the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the order and make a final decision. Until then, part of the executive order will effectively stop immigrants from six different Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Here’s what you need to know about the current ban.
Facts About the Ban
The President’s order in its entirety aims to ban travel and immigration into the U.S. from six “terror-prone countries,” as the President phrases it. He stated that his “number one responsibility as Commander in Chief is to keep the American people safe.” He believes the ban will act as an “important tool for protecting our nation’s homeland.” As of June 29, 2017, the terms of the partial ban are as follows:
- People from Libya, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen may not travel into the U.S. for 90 days. The text of the order states that the conditions in these countries pose “heightened threats,” due to the states sponsoring terrorism or containing active conflict zones.
- Immigrants from these countries can only enter the U.S. if they have a “credible claim of bona fide relationship.” A relationship can include a spouse or close family member living in the U.S, a job, or as a student in school. Extended family members are not “close,” according to the order.
- Refugees from any country may not travel into the U.S. for 120 days. The ban affects visa applicants as well as any refugees awaiting approval to enter the U.S.
- Exemptions from the ban include U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, visa holders, visa applicants in the U.S. as of June 26, dual nationals, and anyone with asylum.
- Immigrants who currently hold visas will not face visa revocation or deportation. Previously scheduled appointments for visa applications will go on as planned.
There have already been challenges in court regarding what constitutes a “bone fide” relationship to someone in the U.S. This is the second time the executive order came under deliberation by the administration. Two appellate courts blocked the order almost in its entirety before the Supreme Court made this most recent decision. The Court will consider the terms of the ban more completely at a gathering this fall.
Reactions to the Ban
Political reactions to the passing of the partial ban have been varied. Those in the White House remark that the Supreme Court’s decision is a “great victory” and will help improve the safety of U.S. citizens during a volatile time. Those against the executive order assert that it is an “insult to Muslims in this country and around the world” and is “prohibited by our Constitution.” The president of the American Constitution Society says that some justices believe President Trump has gone too far with the new immigration policy. Until the Supreme Court makes a final vote on the order in its entirety, immigrants from the six Muslim-majority countries listed above cannot legally enter the country unless they can prove an accepted relationship.
Posted in Immigration on July 12, 2017
Illegal, or undocumented, immigrants live under the stigma that they work in the United States without paying federal taxes. While this may be true for some, studies show that this is the exception, not the rule. Estimates from the Social Security Administration show that nearly half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. workforce (around 3.4 million out of 8 million in the workforce) paid taxes in 2014. That’s billions of tax dollars from undocumented workers. If this is true, why does the idea that illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes still persist? It’s an unfortunate reality of today’s political climate.
Unclaimed Tax Money in the Earning Suspense File
Every year, billions of dollars come from unidentified taxpayers. When the SSA receives W-2 forms from employees with social security numbers that don’t match any on record, the administration puts it in the “Earnings Suspense File.” The tax documents will remain in this file until someone eventually claims them, with proof of identification. This is the only way the individual will collect retirement benefits from his or her years of work. Since undocumented immigrants have no way of proving that they earned these wages, they will likely never receive the retirement benefits they deserve.
The Earning Suspense File has tax documents that date all the way to 1937. It has record of taxes paid on almost $1.3 trillion in earned wages. While recent efforts by the SSA have matched about 171 million tax forms in the Earning Suspense File to their owners, millions still remain without anyone coming to claim them. The rightful owners of many of these documents are likely illegal immigrants. While these individuals could likely get away with not paying taxes, many obey the law and file tax forms – yet they will never be able to collect retirement funds from their earned wages.
Many undocumented immigrants use fake Social Security cards to work in the United States. Employers may or may not know about the false information upon hiring the immigrant. The employer will then submit a W-2 form to the SSA on behalf of the employee during tax time. The federal government won’t be able to match the Social Security number to anyone on record. The document will then go to the Earning Suspense File, and most of the money that technically belongs to the undocumented immigrant will be allocated to Social Security trust funds – eventually benefiting elderly Americans who are in the system.
The Use of Illegal Immigrant Tax Dollars in America
The half of illegal workers who do pay taxes help pay for public schools, road repairs, and local government services. They pay federal and property taxes like other residents, despite being unable to collect retirement benefits. Even undocumented workers paid “under the table” in cash may still pay taxes thanks to stipulations from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in recent years.
Immigrants can use an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) to file a tax return on cash payments like other workers. The incentive to pay taxes may be eventual legalization – a history of paying taxes can help an undocumented immigrant receive legal immigration status. Should an illegal immigrant ever stand before an immigration judge, paying taxes can sway the decision in the immigrant’s favor.
Today, many undocumented immigrants are striving to receive tax refunds. If they are due a refund, it’s because they paid more in taxes than the law required. Undocumented or not, these immigrants can apply for an ITIN and apply for a refund. However, an ITIN does not legalize the immigrant’s status or give the person the right to Social Security benefits. For help with your taxes and/or refund as an undocumented immigrant, speak to an attorney in Texas.
Posted in Immigration on June 28, 2017
The new U.S. presidential administration has already led to changes in the ways immigration laws around the country are enforced. In the state of Texas, documented and undocumented immigrants may not understand the current laws or their rights. Understanding Texas’ laws about immigration checks, law enforcement privileges, educational institution rules, and laws within the workplace can help immigrants feel more confident and avoid unnecessary interactions with the law. As the laws continue to change, work with an attorney in Houston regarding any legal questions, recent detainments, or charges against you.
Secure Communities Program
The federal Secure Communities Program from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office requires fingerprinting of all arrested individuals. The fingerprints then go through a federal database that checks the individual’s immigration status. Some cities have refused to comply with provisions of the Secure Communities Program, but the Houston Police Department currently abides by the fingerprinting regulations.
Federal law requires all employers to verify a prospective employee’s eligibility to work in the United States. This involves receiving proof of the person’s documentation as a legal U.S. citizen or immigrant. Employment checks may involve Form 1-9 as well as the E-Verify process to check a person’s immigration status. Federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of citizenship status, but it is unlawful to employ undocumented immigrants. Fair employment practices protect all work-authorized people from unfair documentary processes.
Educational Institution Requirements
Under federal law, states must provide all children with equal access to public education, regardless of immigration status. Children of all immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, may pay in-state tuition at public universities in Texas. There is no current federal law prohibiting U.S. colleges from admitting undocumented students. There are only three states – Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina – that have passed laws restricting undocumented students from attending public colleges.
Public Benefits Restrictions
Texas’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides cash to low-income families with children ages 18 and younger to help pay for basic needs, such as food. Only U.S. citizens and legal residents may receive TANF benefits. Federal law prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving this public benefit, as well as most other benefits. They can, though, receive health care and emergency services that are necessary to protect their lives and safety.
ID and Voting Laws
To obtain a Texas driver’s license or other form of identification, a resident needs a valid Social Security card or another acceptable form of identification. Valid photo identification is also required to vote in the state of Texas. Identification for voter ID includes a driver’s license, U.S. citizenship certificate, U.S. passport, and U.S. military ID.
Senate Bill 4 – New Potential Immigration Laws
Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) recently passed and will give police departments and governmental immigration agents the power to conduct immigration checks on anyone in detainment. It will also punish jurisdictions that fail to comply with U.S. immigration laws, or that act as sanctuary cities by discouraging law enforcement from conducting immigration status checks on routine stops. SB 4 is set to come into effect on September 1, 2017. However, several cities in Texas have filed lawsuits against the state for passing the bill, on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and will create discord between law enforcement and immigrant communities. It is possible that the bill will not make it out of the courtroom.
Know Your Rights as an Immigrant in Texas
Should you and your family encounter an immigration raid in Texas, remain silent and contact a lawyer. If a police officer or immigration agent arrests you, use your phone call to contact an attorney. Do not speak to police about where you were born or how you came into the United States. Do not show the officer any false documents. The sooner you speak with an attorney, the sooner you receive sound legal advice in any given immigration situation.
Posted in Immigration on June 21, 2017
Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the Sanctuary City Ban, is a newly passed bill that aims to crack down on state immigration laws. It bans sanctuary cities, or those cities that do not fully cooperate with U.S. immigration enforcement agents. The bill, signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott, also imposes hefty fines on jurisdictions that fail to comply with federal immigration agents’ requests. The bill has far-reaching immigration implications. San Antonio, El Paso, and Austin have filed lawsuits against the state of Texas to stop the new law. Houston may be next to join the fight against SB 4.
What Does the Bill Entail?
Immigration agents and officers will have much more power in terms of law enforcement once SB 4 goes into effect (September 1, 2017). The law will allow them to make requests for inmates in custody without exceptions. Officers will also have the power to inquire about an individual’s immigration status, even during traffic stops. Anyone suspected of breaking the law will now face questions about his or her immigration status, regardless of the nature of the alleged crime.
Jurisdictions that do not comply with the new rules will face consequences, such as $25,000 in fines. Elected officials found guilty of going against the bill could face removal from office and criminal charges, such as a Class A misdemeanor. Officials in every Texas city will be required to turn over immigrants who are potentially undocumented, and to make requests for immigration status during detainments – or the officials could face legal consequences of their own.
Who is Fighting the Bill?
The first lawsuit in reaction to SB 4 came from the small border city of El Cenizo, which claimed that the bill did not clearly define “sanctuary city,” and that it will tie up important law enforcement resources. San Antonio and Austin soon followed with their own lawsuits. City attorneys argue against every provision of the new senate bill and claim that it violates the First, Fourth, and 14th amendments. These amendments involve the rights of citizens to live free from unfounded searches and seizures, and free from questions about citizenship.
The cities involved in the lawsuit claim that empowering every law enforcement officer and city official, without restrictions, is a waste of resources that could lead to racial profiling. Several police departments throughout the state believe that SB 4 will create an atmosphere of distrust between officers and immigrant communities, leading to a rise in crime and resulting in the loss of assistance from immigrants in preventing and solving crime. The Austin Police Department has already met with immigrant communities to avoid discord.
Houston may be the next Texas city to join the lawsuits against the state. Mayor Sylvester Turner stated that the city is working on its own strategies to fight the bill. The mayor has spoken publicly against the bill and wrote a letter in opposition to its provisions. He said that now that the bill has passed into law, the city of Houston will look at its constitutionality and determine the next step. City officials may opt for litigation to fight the bill and keep it from dividing communities.
The Future of SB 4
It is unclear whether SB 4 will come into effect in September as scheduled, considering the ongoing lawsuits against the state of Texas for passing it. The law may not leave the courtroom. Claims of the bill encouraging racial profiling, leading to distrust between the community and law enforcement, and violating at least three constitutional rights puts the bill on shaky ground in Texas. As more cities and districts speak up against SB 4 and join the litigation, its fate and its new immigration laws remain unknown.
Posted in Immigration on June 2, 2017
Immigration has been at the forefront of political debate. From either side of the aisle, both critics and proponents of stronger immigration laws have been debating the issue of “sanctuary cities.” But what are these sanctuary cities, and what kind of legal protections do they offer immigrants who fear deportation?
Sanctuary, from a Legal Standpoint
First, it’s important to understand that the term “sanctuary city” is largely symbolic. From a legal standpoint, no city official has the power to prevent the federal government from deporting members of their communities. On the other hand, we are a nation of immigrants, so sanctuary cities offer a protective shield to those who would try to pinpoint and deport undocumented workers or immigrants at random. The protections afforded by sanctuary cities come from the court of public opinion.
A Highly Politicized Debate
Sanctuary cities have become one of the defining topics of the political debate surrounding immigration. On the right side of the aisle, politicians blame sanctuary cities like San Francisco for providing a safe haven for criminals. They repeatedly cite the shooting of Kate Steinle, who was killed on a tourist promenade by an undocumented worker with a long criminal history.
President Donald J. Trump has been trying to restrict federal funding to sanctuary cities by issuing a series of executive orders. These orders have been shot down by judges in the U.S. district court in San Francisco.
What Makes for a Sanctuary City?
As part of the “Sanctuary Movement,” four states, 364 counties, and 39 cities have adopted pro-immigration policies, citing their areas as refuges from ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). But what makes a city (or county or state) a sanctuary is a matter of interpretation. Some of the largest sanctuary cities – New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and our fair city of Houston – limit their cooperation with ICE forces. They also refuse to turn over unauthorized immigrants from jails unless they meet certain conditions.
Origins of Sanctuary
The idea of a sanctuary city is actually not new. In the early 1980s, the “sanctuary movement” began in faith-based communities, as an extension of the medieval practice in which churches offered refuge for all. But historical practice was focused on providing shelter to those who committed crimes – for churches in the southwestern United States, they weren’t providing shelter to outlaws. They were protecting refugees.
The 1980s were a period of tumult and bloody civil war in Central America. Thousands fled north from Guatemala and El Salvador, seeking refuge near Tucson, Arizona. Church leaders were appalled when they saw immigration officials turning away men, women, and children, so they decided to intervene.
They believed that their moral obligation to help the vulnerable superseded federal law, so they began to smuggle in refugees at night, guiding them across the border to safety. In this sense, the term “sanctuary” was literal, because many immigrant families lived within the churches themselves. At night, they slept in the pews. Then, a quiet movement was born.
Sanctuary Cities Today
The sanctuary cities of today have turned into a politicized act. The current administration is committed to ending sanctuary cities and some state governments have taken that hard line as well. In particular, Texas has sought to pass a law that would ban cities and counties throughout the state from adopting sanctuary policies. Many officials, including the mayor of Houston, have shrugged off the efforts, stating that they will always be committed to protecting the foundation of American democracy.
Though still restricted by federal laws, sanctuary cities offer important protections to those who wish to remain in the United States. The administration may try to dismantle them, but they don’t appear to be going anywhere in the near future.