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Lansing, Michigan is a “sanctuary city.” Before you run off screaming or rush to hide your children from the perceived tidal wave of impending criminal debauchery, take a moment to learn a little about these controversial policies. Although the term sanctuary city has been misconstrued to mean a lot of different things, sanctuary city policies are not a radical or new concept. In fact, Lansing benefits from these policies and more Michigan cities would be wise to follow suit. To help improve your knowledge of the subject, this brief article will (1) demystify sanctuary cities, (2) explain the benefits of sanctuary city policies, and (3) explain how local governments can work to protect constitutional rights and build trust in law enforcement.

First, it is important to define the term sanctuary city. This term has been twisted and manipulated by the media in such a way that it would wise for organizations to pick a new term for proposed immigrant friendly policies. In its simplest form, a sanctuary city is a city that has enacted policies and/or laws that prevent state or local law enforcement officials from either questioning an individual about his/her immigration status and/or holding individuals on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) detainers. These policies are not extreme and do not interfere with a police officer’s ability to perform his/her duties. Nor do these policies trample on the American Dream or create a breeding ground for insidious behavior. In fact, as you will learn, these policies build community trust in law enforcement and work to create a safer and more welcoming community.

As mentioned above, some sanctuary city policies prevent law enforcement officials from questioning individuals about their immigration status. In line with this norm, it is the Lansing Police Department’s (“LPD’s”) policy that they “will not ask about, nor record in a report, any person’s citizenship or immigration status, who have contact with the police including but not limited to, crime victims, suspects or witnesses, unless required by federal or state law or a court decision.”[1] As expressed by the LPD, an individual’s immigration status has no bearing on the LPD’s mission or core values.[2] In similar fashion, the LPD acknowledges that these sanctuary city policies work to build trust between the police and the community.[3] This makes sense because noncitizens are less likely to call the police if they fear that the police will question them about their immigration status, whether or not they immigrated through the proper procedural channels. In light of the previous presidential administration and historical context, immigrants have every reason to distrust the government and these policies are designed to help mend a broken relationship. The LPD’s policy is a no-brainer because the LPD is not tasked with immigration enforcement and an individual’s immigration status is irrelevant to their duty to protect the community.

Some sanctuary city policies deal with ICE detainers. For those who do not know, ICE detainers are non-mandatory requests by ICE to state and local law enforcement agencies to detain a person in custody past the time when there is no legal reason to continue detainment. Police departments do not have a legal obligation to follow ICE detainers because they are non-mandatory. In fact, holding an individual past his/her legal detainment is likely a violation of the United States Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. It does not take formal legal training to realize that it is problematic for police departments to hold an individual longer than constitutionally permissible. It does not become legal or morally justifiable just because the individual is foreign born. Thankfully, the LPD recognizes all of this and has a policy that states, the “LPD will not continue to detain an individual beyond their initial detention release time pursuant to an immigration detainer request without a valid judicial warrant signed by an Article III Federal Judge or Magistrate.” And yes—before you ask—constitutional protections apply to immigrants too.

In its most simplified terms, the Constitution applies to everyone within the United States whether or not they have obtained citizenship status. With some specific exceptions, the Fourth Amendment protects noncitizens against unreasonable searches and seizures and the Fifth Amendment establishes that noncitizens have a right to due process.[4] Additionally, clarifying any possible misconceptions, in 1993, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that noncitizens have the right to due process under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.[5] In other words, generally speaking, noncitizens are protected by the Constitution and police departments should not hold them past their period of detention because of possible constitutional violations. In fact, some federal courts have already determined that detention by local agencies is unconstitutional when it is based on ICE detainers.[6]

If the constitutional rights of noncitizens are not persuasive to you—apart from having concerns about your general morality—I would point to the significant liability that localities face when honoring ICE detainers. Simply put, individuals suffering constitutional injuries caused by the government can bring “Section 1983 claims” for their injuries. This means that local governments can face enormous litigation costs and costly settlements because they wrongfully detained individuals. These costs would eventually be footed by the locale’s taxpayers because a politician decided that trying to make a political statement against immigration was more important than constitutional freedoms and low taxes. Not very constitutionally or fiscally conservative if you ask me.

As briefly noted, sanctuary city laws and policies build trust between law enforcement officials and noncitizen community members. Not only does this make law enforcement’s job easier, but it has also net positive results for the community. According to research by the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan educational institute and nonprofit, sanctuary counties have lower crime rates than nonsanctuary counties.[7] More specifically, sanctuary counties have “35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 people” than nonsanctuary counties. Additionally, sanctuary counties tend to have healthier economies than nonsanctuary counties. Notably, “median household income is, on average, $4,352.70 higher in sanctuary counties when statistically matching and then controlling for population characteristics.”[8] Thus, it is clear that sanctuary city policies and laws have a positive impact on the entire community.

Ultimately, Lansing is right to adopt sanctuary city policies. Those policies not only protect the rights of Lansing’s residents, but also lowers its crime rates, stimulates its economy, and builds trust between its police department and community. More cities should take notice and enact similar policies to further benefit their own communities.

[1] Lansing Police Department Manual, 600.08 Immigration Policy. [2] Id. [3] Id. [4] U.S. Const. amend. IV, V. [5] Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292, 306 (1993). [6] See Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County, No. 3:12-cv-02317-ST, 2014 WL 1414305 (D.Or. April 11, 2014); Morales v. Chadbourne, 996 F. Supp. 2d 19 (D.R.I. 2014) aff’d in part, dismissed in part, 793 F.3d 208, 215-216 (1st Cir. 2015); Orellana v. Nobles County, No. 0:15-cv-03852 (D. Minn. Jan. 6, 2017). [7] Center for American Progress, The Effects of Sanctuary Policies on Crime and the Economy, [8] Id.

[9] Photo by Fabian Fauth on Unsplash.

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