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US ‘sanctuary cities’ preparing to resist Trump

20 January 20170 comments

Some of the US’ largest cities, most of which have traditionally welcomed and harboured undocumented migrants, are preparing to resist a Donald Trump-led federal campaign to deport them.

So called ‘sanctuary cities’, which include Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, and New York; along with dozens of counties and college campuses across the country are pledging to limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities and become ‘sanctuaries’ for those facing deportation.

Many migrants and their supporters fear Trump will make good on his campaign promise to deport the 11 million-or-so undocumented migrants living in the US.

These same people remember the highly militarised and coordinated mass workplace raids that took place nationwide during former president George W. Bush’s second term and saw tens of thousands of illegal immigrant workers arrested and deported.

To prepare for this possibility, an organisation called ‘The Resurrection Project’ has been hosting “know your rights” workshops.

Under the Obama administration, undocumented young people whose parents brought them to the US as children were given amnesty under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The program started in June 2012 and allows undocumented migrants to the United States who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.

To be eligible, immigrants must have entered the United States before their 16th birthday and before June 2007, be currently in school, a high school graduate or be honorably discharged from the military, be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2015, and have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three other misdemeanors, or otherwise pose a threat to national security.

The program does not provide lawful status or a path to citizenship.

The policy was created after it was acknowledged these people had been largely been raised in the US and was seen as a way to remove immigration enforcement attention from “low priority” individuals who act as good citizens.

Trump has said he will axe the program.

He promised to “end sanctuary cities” in his first 100 days in office by revoking their federal funding.

Many of the cities, and particularly their police forces, stand to lose tens of millions of dollars in annual grants from the US justice department if he follows through.

But since the presidential election, many cities have strengthened laws prohibiting local officials from asking people about their immigration status.

Others, including Chicago, are rolling out municipal identification cards so that undocumented residents can more easily access public services such as healthcare and schools.

Mayors are also setting aside funds to pay for lawyers to defend people in federal deportation proceedings.

In the US, immigrants facing deportation have no automatic right to legal counsel. Chicago, home to some 150,000 undocumented residents, recently announced a $1.3 million legal aid fund, while Los Angeles has pledged $10 million through a public-private partnership.

New York City already guaranteed representation to immigrant detainees via a $6 million program created in 2013.

A leading figure in the ‘sanctuary city’ movement is Chicago Mayor and former advisor to President Clinton Rahm Emanuel.

“I want them to know that the city of Chicago – your children, you and your family – are safe, secure and supported,” he said recently last month in announcing his city’s legal aid fund last month.

Part of the fund is being channeled to The Resurrection Project to train some 200 ‘community navigators’ to assist people with immigration questions.

The rest has gone to the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Centre to hire nine staff who will represent at least a thousand cases over the next year.

The sanctuary city concept is not new. In Chicago, it dates back to 1985 when then-mayor Harold Washington issued an executive order that banned city agencies from asking about the immigration status of anyone seeking city services.

Hundreds of US jurisdictions, including entire states such as California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have sanctuary policies.

But immigration experts warn that the term ‘sanctuary’ could be misleading, giving the impression of cities hiding their residents from federal agents.

In reality, federal immigration agents can round up undocumented immigrants anywhere providing they have a warrant.

Many Karen refugees volunteer in grounds growing vegetables, pruning, and weeding as well as looking after the chooks.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist