Last February, Ithaca’s City Council unanimously voted to make Ithaca a sanctuary city, a popular move in a community so supportive of immigrants. This designation implied that Ithaca would limit its cooperation with national immigration law authorities in their efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. However, many Ithacans were surprised to hear that on May 2, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested an undocumented Ithaca resident. Local law enforcement reported having no knowledge of the arrest in advance, and it proved to be unexpected to those who had been under the impression that Ithaca’s sanctuary city status would prevent events like this from occurring. The actual meaning of Ithaca’s sanctuary status designation has potential to be meaningful both in the context of the local community and also in terms of its relationship with the federal government and federal immigration enforcement.
The largest change brought about by February’s resolution was the creation of a policy that prevents city officials, such as police officers, from asking individuals about their immigration status unless it is directly related to a crime they committed. While this effectively prevents local police from assisting ICE in carrying out deportations, ICE demonstrated on May 2 that the consent of local law enforcement has no effect on their ability to enforce immigration law in Ithaca.
Concerningly, it is unclear if Ithaca’s status as a sanctuary city affected ICE’s decision in the recent Ithaca case. At a rally held on May 3 in support of the local man who ICE had detained, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick suggested that ICE may specifically be targeting sanctuary cities. While this is a bold claim, for many cities, the act of becoming a sanctuary city has been used as a way to take a stand against and show defiance towards the Trump administration. The past few months have seen a number of threats that have indicated President Trump’s disdain for cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. These threats include an attempt to cut off federal funding to sanctuary cities, although that was ultimately blocked by a federal judge who saw the order as unconstitutional.
While none of Trump’s attempts to punish sanctuary cities have become law, sanctuary cities have also become targets of some legislative action at a state level. In Texas, currently the state with the second highest population of undocumented immigrants, Governor Greg Abbott recently signed into law a bill giving police greater power to inquire about the immigration status of people they suspect of being illegal immigrants. This bill also made it illegal for local law enforcement to not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. The bill, which will become the law on September 1, presents an example of the opposition that some cities in the country are facing for not cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
Although the definition of Ithaca’s designation as a sanctuary city is quite clear, what it actually will mean for the city is much more complex. Currently, some would see it as the city putting a target on its head for the Trump administration, but many Ithaca residents see it as a necessary stand to show support for the immigrant community.