During President Trump’s campaign, he vowed to deport the “bad hombres”—all immigrants with serious criminal records. His administration, however, is deporting more than just Mexican “criminals, drug dealers, and rapists.” The Department of Justice, under President Trump, has aggressively enforced federal immigration laws, invoking great fear in immigrant communities across the nation. In response to this hardline position on immigration enforcement, several jurisdictions throughout the United States declared themselves “sanctuaries,” or reaffirmed their already in-place sanctuary status. Generally, sanctuary jurisdictions limit the enforcement of federal immigration laws against immigrants with strong ties to the community that have no serious criminal record. However, sanctuary policies vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Sanctuary jurisdictions have become a target because they threaten the Trump Administration’s immigration enforcement agenda. President Trump and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had tried conditioning federal funding, attempting to force sanctuary jurisdictions to cooperate in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. At the intersectionality of a broken immigration system and the principles of separation of powers and federalism lies a very important question: does the Executive Branch have the power to do this.
Separation of powers is a core principle of this nation’s government. The framers of the U.S. Constitution specifically built a system of checks and balances to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful. The U.S. Constitution leaves no doubt that the power of the purse belongs to Congress, and not the Executive Branch. While Congress can, it has not authorized the Executive Branch to condition federal grants in this manner. In fact, Congress has consistently refused legislation that ties federal funding to immigration laws. Plain and simple, President Trump and the U.S. Attorney General’s actions violated the U.S. Constitution’s principle of separation of powers. Multiple federal courts have found these orders at least partially unconstitutional on this ground, including the Seventh Circuit in its recent City of Chicago v. Sessions decision. The Seventh Circuit described the Executive Branch’s actions as a “usurpation of power.” Judge Rovner stressed, “We are a country that jealously guards the separation of powers, and we must be ever-vigilant in that endeavor.” I could not agree more with the Seventh Circuit: no one branch should have all that power. If the federal government wants state and local governments to enforce federal law, the branches must work together to pass non-xenophobic legislation that fixes our immigration system.
Susana A. Sandoval Vargas,
Sanctuary Jurisdictions: In a System of Checks and Balances Who Has the Authority to Defeat Them?,
Seventh Circuit Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/seventhcircuitreview/vol14/iss1/8