President Donald Trump has made his hostility toward immigrants clear. In his June 16, 2015 speech announcing his candidacy for president, Trump infamously called for the U.S. to build a wall along its border with Mexico and referred to Latin American immigrants as “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Concerned about the effects of Trump’s election on U.S. immigration policy, several progressive cities have adopted “sanctuary city” policies of their own. A sanctuary city, sometimes also referred to as a “constitutional city,” is a city whose local law enforcement does not contact federal immigration authorities in response to an undocumented immigrant committing a civil, non-criminal infraction. Contrary to Trump’s blustery rhetoric that sanctuary cities harbor criminals, research has actually demonstrated that sanctuary cities experience 15% less crime on average than do non-sanctuary cities; sanctuary cities reduce crime by increasing trust between law enforcement and undocumented immigrants and by freeing police officers to pursue actual criminals, not undocumented immigrants who have not committed any crimes.
Baltimore, the state’s largest city, has immigrant-friendly policies designed to shield undocumented immigrants from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. While it is technically not a sanctuary city because its state-run detention facilities are subject to federal oversight, Baltimore refers to itself as a “welcoming city,” one which Mayor Catherine Pugh describes as “providing opportunities and jobs and for folks” regardless of their immigration status. The effects of a welcoming city are similar to that of a sanctuary city; city services are open and accessible to all residents without probing their immigration background.
The Trump administration’s harsh new immigration policies are adversely affecting the Baltimore community in particular. Because it operates similarly to a sanctuary city, Baltimore has been subject to the Trump administration’s Operation Safe City crackdown, in which federal ICE agents have conducted raids on cities suspected to be welcoming toward undocumented immigrants. This past September, ICE arrested twenty-eight undocumented residents. Federal officials claimed the raids were targeting undocumented immigrants with a criminal background, yet only eleven out of the twenty-eight Maryland residents arrested had criminal convictions.
The relationship between federal, state, and local immigration law is complicated; federal law applies nationwide, but because the federal government does not have the resources to oversee every square inch of the country, not all localities enforce federal immigration policies. As a welcoming city, Baltimore police officers “do not enforce federal immigration laws, but [they] do honor criminal arrest warrants obtained by federal law enforcement agencies,” according to Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.
The Trump administration is also dangling federal dollars in front of Baltimore conditional on its compliance with new federal immigration policies. This past August, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a letter to four cities, including Baltimore, threatening to revoke their federal funding for the Public Safety Partnership, a program against gun and gang violence. If Baltimore does not relent to the Department of Justice’s demands for unlimited access to local law enforcement officers and jails, it will lose money to help it make its communities safer.
Baltimore has the right to offer all its residents (regardless of their immigration status) the opportunity to create a home, pursue a career, and build a community. Trump’s harsh new immigration policies will prevent Baltimore from doing just that.