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If Federal Law is Supreme Law, How Did Chicago Become a “Sanctuary City”?

Dennis Byrne 28 July 2010 One Comment

If Arizona is not allowed to have its own “immigration policy,” as the Obama Department of Justice insists, then why is Chicago and other local or state governments allowed to have their own immigration policies by creating sanctuaries for illegal immigrants?

Chicago, Evanston, Cicero and scores, if not hundreds, of other state and local governments have established themselves as “sanctuary cities” in which they have prescribed their own rules prohibiting the reporting by their law enforcement officers of illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

Is a clear violation of federal law and court decisions, but the Obama administration sits on its hands while Chicago and other cities spit in the eye of federal law. It also spotlights the hypocrisy of outfits like the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights when they argue that the Arizona law must be tossed because no state can set its own immigration policy, while supporting sanctuary cities.

Specifically, Section 642 of the 1996 immigration reform act and Section 424 of the 1996 welfare reform act forbid a state or local government from prohibiting its employees from sharing information about illegal immigrants with federal immigration authorities.

The 1996 immigration reform law, officially known as the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, also authorizes state and local governments to require proof of eligibility, such as a passport, drivers’ license or resident alien card, from applicants for government benefits.

Furthermore, federal law makes it a felony to conceal an illegal immigrant. Since Chicago and other sanctuary cities intentionally shelter illegal immigrants, they are plainly violating federal law. For such violators, Section 274 of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides for criminal penalties for encouraging illegal immigrants from residing in America—something that “sanctuary” doubtless provides.

These laws have been variously challenged in the courts, and upheld.

The principle of federal law trumping state and local laws is supported whole-heartedly by Fred Tao, policy director, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. In his response to my Tribune column reflecting on the federal-state questions involved, he wrote:

As [Byrne] spotlights the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, [he] forgets Article VI, the Supremacy Clause: “The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States . . . shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” The Constitution makes immigration a matter of federal law, so federal immigration laws trump attempts by states or localities to pass their own immigration laws. The federal government must act to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. But in the meantime, laws that conflict with federal law — like Arizona’s — cannot stand.

Yet, there’s no mention in his response about sanctuary cities. Yes, he pointed out that localities and states that are identifying illegal immigrants to federal authority are not doing it on their own. He’s right. I indicated the same thing in my column. I quoted the feds, saying the programs I mentioned are among several “under (an) umbrella of services and programs offered for assistance to local law enforcement officers.”

But, here is the point that Tao misses:

The federal law welcomes state and local help dealing with illegal immigrants. But it also says that no state or locality may make any rule, regulation or policy that conflicts with Federal immigration policy.

The Arizona law does not conflict with federal law; it supports and is nearly identical with federal law. Actually, it reinforces federal law by banning racial profiling. Sanctuary city laws not just conflict with federal law, they violate the law. If the Obama administration weren’t so hypocritical, it also would moving against sanctuary cities.

I have no idea how the Obama administration’s lawsuit against Arizona will come out. The first of several court decisions is at hand, with the law scheduled to go into effect on Thursday. The case, which could make it to the Supreme Court, involves very complex and historic issues that have bedeviled our federal republic from its inception. The complexities fueled everything from the Federalist Papers, one of the nation’s brilliant founding documents, to the Civil War. What we have here isn’t only an argument about the enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws, but also the approach of another milestone in the centuries-old debate about the foundation of our national governance.


Dennis Byrne is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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