With Trump presidency officially underway, New York cities double down on their status as sanctuaries

By Alanna Schubach | January 20, 2017 - 10:59AM 

The New York Times reports that Eric Schneiderman, New York's attorney general, will advise cities throughout the state about how they can offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants over the next four years. Though the modern sanctuary movement has been underway since the 1980s, the issue returned to the fore during the 2016 election season: Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump vowed to institute a tougher immigration policy, cracking down on those in the country without citizenship, visas, or pemanent residency status (an estimated 11 million people, according to the Wall Street Journal.) 

And as the Los Angeles Times writes, Trump is planning to deliver on his promises, eliminating protections instituted under Obama for undocumented immigrants and increasing deportations, as well as potentially tightening restrictions on what qualifies people for refugee status, and, yes, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Now, some sanctuary cities and counties—that is, places where local governments adopt a policy of non-compliance with federal authorities by not prosecuting undocumented immigrants—are doubling down on their efforts to protect this population. The Washington Post has an explainer here about how exactly sanctuaries keep undocumented immigrants from being deported by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement; as there's no one legal definition of what constitutes a sanctuary, practices can vary from place to place. 

In addition to NYC, there are several other sanctuary cities in New York State, including Albany, Rochester, and Syracuse. Schneiderman intends to offer legal guidance to these jurisdictions to help them maintain their status under an administration that may be antagonistic. (Trump, CNN reports, has said he wants to block federal funding to sanctuary cities.) 

Sanctuary cities have their share of critics outside the Trump camp. The non-profit Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), for instance, launched the hashtag #StopSanctuaryCities on Thursday, claiming that accommodating undocumented immigrants disincentivizes people from seeking citizenship and increases the risk of crime.

But a recent report from the office of NYC comptroller Scott Stringer argues that the city's immigrant population—3.3 million people—is essential to powering the local economy. Foreign-born New Yorkers make up more than half of the city's business owners, and pay $8 billion in income taxes and $2 billion in property taxes annually. A portion of this tax income comes from NYC's undocumented residents: A study from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that immigrants illegally in the U.S. contribute billions in taxes each year.   

NYC's sanctuary city status also helps families stay together. Last month, New York featured the stories of immigrant New Yorkers, including the Acas. Kamilla, six months old, is a citizen, born in the United States; her mother, uncle, and grandmother crossed the border from Mexico unlawfully over a decade ago. Under a more aggressive deportation policy, the family would be wrenched apart. 

Ironically, Kamilla's uncle, Ricardo, upon earning the right to work through the Obama-helmed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, took his first job at a restaurant in the Trump Hotel in SoHo—a fitting symbol, perhaps, of how the worlds collide.


Alanna Schubach

Contributing writer

Contributing editor Alanna Schubach has over a decade of experience as a New York City-based freelance journalist.

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