Donald Trump’s campaign for president drew early mockery for being nothing more than “entertainment.”
Almost five months later, there’s little doubt that Trump has become one of the figures most responsible for shaping policy on his signature issue: immigration.
Republicans from the state to federal level have worked to enact tighter immigration laws, as the issue has gained prominence on the campaign trail.
“For the the longest time we saw a lot of anti-immigrant measures happen at the federal level, or complete inaction at the federal level, and then we saw the states going in the opposite direction, and seeking policies that recognised the value of immigrants to the economy, to the community,” Melissa Keaney, an attorney at the pro-immigration reform National Immigration Law Center told Business Insider.
“Now things have turned on their head. … It’s a disturbing trend.”
Since launching his presidential run earlier this year, Trump has been one of the most prominent Republicans calling for the end of so-called “sanctuary cities.”
That name has been colloquially bestowed upon localities that do not comply with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement orders to detain immigrants living in the US illegally beyond their release date, if they’re picked up for a low-level crime.
“This senseless and totally preventable act of violence committed by an illegal immigrant is yet another example of why we must secure our border immediately,” Trump said earlier this year, referencing the death of a woman, 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle, killed by an immigrant living in the US without permission.
“This is an absolutely disgraceful situation, and I am the only one that can fix it,” he added. “Nobody else has the guts to even talk about it. That won’t happen if I become president.”
The response from the Republican Party has been swift: Over the past four months, Republicans across the country have set in motion a wave of action against sanctuary cities.
In June, the House of Representatives passed a bill defunding sanctuary cities. Senate Republicans failed to pass a similar measure last week, but not before several Republican presidential candidates in the chamber decried the issue.
“Democratic senators choose to value partisan loyalty to the Obama White House over protecting the lives of the children who will be murdered by violent criminal illegal aliens in sanctuary cities,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a presidential candidate, said during a speech on the Senate floor last month.
But while action at the federal level hasn’t yielded any results, some Republican-controlled states have begun to move on the issue.
‘Standing up for the rule of law’
Last month, North Carolina passed a tough immigration-enforcement package that restricted Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program funding and expanded the state’s e-verify program, a system that allows employers to verify the eligibility of potential hires.
But the law also included a bizarre, somewhat ambiguous measure that specifically prevents local governments from passing laws that could theoretically limit the execution of federal enforcement law.
In other words, local law-enforcement agencies are barred from putting in place official policies that would explicitly not honour ICE detainer requests.
“Today, North Carolina is standing up for the rule of law, which is central to North Carolina values and our country’s values,” McCrory said after the legislation passed, according to The Huffington Post. “Public safety officials must have the flexibility and tools to investigate crimes and sanctuary city policies deprive law enforcement of those tools.”
Other states are also looking to take similar steps to restrict so-called sanctuary cities.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) recently issued a letter to Texas sheriffs threatening to withhold grants from the state’s Criminal Justice Division if the departments do not comply with ICE detainer requests.
“As Governor, I simply will not allow CJD grant funding administered by this office to support law enforcement agencies that refuse to cooperate with a federal law enforcement program that is intended to keep dangerous criminals off Texas streets,” Abbott said in a statement.
Beyond some backlash from community-policing groups, some law-enforcement agencies are concerned about the ultimate legality of compliance with ICE detainers. Several courts have found that those types of detainers violate the Fourth Amendment, because law-enforcement agents have no probable cause to keep individuals beyond their sentences.
‘A Donald Trump-style move’
Sanctuary cities, rolled into the larger immigration issue, have become a particularly energizing topic on the right. But for candidates looking to play to a more general-election audience, the issue is more politically murky.
A Rasmussen poll released earlier this year found that more than 60% of registered voters believe the Department of Justice should take action against sanctuary cities. The survey, however, did nothing to explain the different types of policies to voters.
Separately earlier this week, the San Francisco sheriff who had vehemently defended the city’s status as a sanctuary city — even after Steinle’s murder — lost in his bid for re-election. He was under intense scrutiny for a host of issues, however, and his coming replacement also supports San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city.
For their part, Democrats clearly view the issue as a potential political coup. They have taken every opportunity to tie the party as a whole to Trump on immigration.
Javier Gamboa, a spokesman for Rep. Kathy Castor (R-Florida), told Business Insider that Abbott’s move to defund sanctuary cities went against the will of law enforcement officials. He said it constituted a “Donald Trump-style” move.
“It’s a Donald Trump-style move and Greg Abbott ought to be embarrassed to play it,” Gamboa said. “Law enforcement officials, from both political parties, know that every county in Texas works closely with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that violent and serious offenders are kept off our streets.
And national Democrats, their eyes on the general election, haven’t missed an opportunity to remind voters that the candidate who many consider poses the greatest threat to Hillary Clinton voted for the sanctuary cities bill that Trump supports.
“This bill is — so far, anyway — the ultimate alignment of Marco Rubio’s campaign platform with Donald Trump’s immigration policy,” Pablo Manriquez, the Democratic National Committee’s Hispanic media director, told Business Insider last month.