Legislators in 33 states have introduced measures to limit or prevent cities from acting as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. Only one state this year, Mississippi, has enacted a ban on sanctuary jurisdictions, but several others, including Texas, Indiana, Iowa, Florida and Georgia, are advancing their own bills.
Sanctuary cities and counties often defy requests from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to hold undocumented immigrants so they can be picked up later for deportation. While there is no technical legal definition of a sanctuary city, many of the bills under consideration would require cities to swear under penalty of perjury that they comply with federal detainer requests.
“If a city calls itself a sanctuary city, that means a lot of different things to a lot of different cities,” said Pennsylvania state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R), who has sponsored a ban on what his legislation calls “municipalities of refuge.”Reschenthaler’s bill, which has passed the state Senate and is awaiting action in the Republican-led state House, would withhold state grants from any city that does not agree to hold detainees for up to 48 hours at ICE’s request. It would also deny those cities sovereign immunity.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has withheld millions of dollars in grants to Austin’s Travis County. State Sen. Charles Perry (R), who has sponsored one of the 23 bills dealing with sanctuary city legislation, said state grants make up a substantial portion of many city and county budgets, which means local officials pay attention when a state moves to block those funds.
“The only way you can get a jurisdiction’s attention is if you withhold the money,” Perry said. “We have several jurisdictions in Texas that, either implicit or explicit, have become sanctuary cities.”