Across the US, “sanctuary cities” are resisting the Trump administration

'Sanctuary cities' like New York have been challenged by Trump, but they're fighting back. Image: Mathias Wasik

In the US, “sanctuary cities” are, in short, places where local officials do not hand over undocumented migrants to federal agents for deportation.

New York, Chicago, Boston, and several major cities in California all hold “sanctuary” status.

On January 25, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order saying that any municipalities that do not cooperate with federal immigration officials would have their funding withdrawn.

On 27 March, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated the government’s position, saying that sanctuary cities would no longer receive Department of Justice grants.

“Failure to deport aliens who are convicted of criminal offenses puts whole communities at risk, especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators,” he told a White House news briefing.

He said noncompliance “could result in withholding grants, termination of grants, and disbarment or ineligibility for future grants.”

However, the federal government’s statements have roused ire from city officials, whose local policies and personal convictions directly contravene the federal agenda, causing a deep rift between the two and even, in some cases, litigation.

One man speaks for the world. Image: Mathias Wasik.

The battlefield of the courtroom

“President Trump’s latest threat changes nothing,” said a subsequent statement from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. “We will remain a city welcoming of immigrants who have helped make our city the safest big city in the nation. Any attempt to cut NYPD funding for the nation’s top terror target will be aggressively fought in court.”

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh called threats to cut funding “irresponsible and destructive” in his own city. However, he stopped short of threatening litigation. “The safety and well-being of our residents is, and will continue to be, my top priority as Mayor of Boston,” Walsh said in a statement released on March 27.

De Blasio would by no means be the first to legally challenge the Trump presidency on the issue of sanctuary cities.

San Francisco's resistance outside City Hall. Image: Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

On January 31, San Francisco actively sued the Trump administration. Shortly afterwards, three other northern Californian cities followed suit: Santa Clara County, Salinas City Council, and Richmond. 

“We will be seeking to have the executive order declared unconstitutional and have an injunction issued to enjoin its enforcement,” said Nancy Fineman, a law partner with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, the firm representing the City of Richmond.

She stated, in comments via email, that the president does not have the power to withdraw funding that has already been allocated.

“Under the separation of powers clause of the US constitution, only Congress has the power to disburse money. The president does not have that authority to give or take away money,” she said. “Once Congress appropriates money it cannot take it away.”

The term “sanctuary city” is also open to question there is no fixed definition – there are differences between jurisdictions claiming sanctuary status. “The executive order does not use the term ‘sanctuary cities’ but ‘sanctuary jurisdictions’ which is not defined. What the term ‘sanctuary jurisdiction’ [means] is a big part of the case,” Fineman said. 

This could depend on the individual or body using the term. “What this administration calls a sanctuary policy might be different from what an immigration advocate calls a sanctuary policy,” said University of Denver law professor Christopher Lasch.

Expanding the sanctuaries 

At the beginning of February, California even mulled the possibility of becoming a “sanctuary state”. At the same time, the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) also mulled designating itself a “sanctuary in transit” for people in the country illegally. The system links San Francisco to several other towns and cities in the Bay Area.

“We are still working on the resolution,” said Lateefah Simon, who serves on the BART Board of Directors. She added that she would be presenting it to the board “in April”.

Whether “sanctuary” jurisdictions are established or maintained with the sole intention of protecting undocumented migrants is open to question. The City of Richmond’s complaint emphasises the role of immigrants in the local labour force.

“Since the Baby Boomer generation (people born after World War II and before 1965) is heading towards retirement, there is a potential for the labour force to slow down without immigrants and their children being part of the work force. Richmond and the Bay Area need this work force,” the document states.

On March 20, the notoriously wealthy beach city of Malibu, California, adopted sanctuary status.

An unlikely place of protest. Image: Tensaibuta.

“I think some people in Malibu have people working for them who are undocumented,” Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal told the LA Times. However, this doesn’t mean any economic aspects are presently being acknowledged in a widespread way.

“We saw the transformation of the immigration issue from an economic issue into – well, it’s now framed almost entirely in terms of public safety,” said Lasch. “We heard Attorney General Sessions repeat that sanctuary policies are a threat to public safety and to national security.”

Sanctuary status cannot prevent federal immigration officials for nonetheless entering jurisdictions and imposing their own restrictions on undocumented migrants. “Sanctuary suggests that you actually are providing a safe place and so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ will readily concede that they do no offer any safety at all from federal immigration officials,” said Lasch.

Neither federal nor city bodies presently appear too eager to shoulder responsibility, for both legal reasons and in terms of resource allocation.

“Federal immigration enforcement is the business of the federal government ... we don’t have a lot of resources to do the jobs that we need to do anyway, so we’re not going to spend our resources on immigration and policing,” said Lasch.

But all the while, the biting uncertainty for undocumented immigrants is only set to get worse. 

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Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.