An ongoing dispute in immigration law, which has taken on new urgency since January, involves the question of whether local authorities are obligated to cooperate with federal officials on immigration enforcement. Numerous judges have ruled that the Constitution prohibits the federal government from requiring local officials to cooperate. A recent court ruling held that a local policy requiring cooperation with federal officials is unconstitutional. LaCroix v. Junior, Nos. F17-376, F17-1770, order (Fla. 11th Jud. Cir., Mar. 3, 2017). While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and others often claim that this issue only pertains to undocumented immigrants, it actually has the potential to affect all immigrants, from people here on tourist visas to permanent residents with green cards, and many citizens as well.
The term “sanctuary cities” refers—often pejoratively—to local jurisdictions that do not cooperate with ICE to some extent. ICE often places “detainers” on individuals in local custody when it suspects them of immigration violations. The detainer directs local officials to hold the person until ICE can take custody of them, even if the person is otherwise entitled to release. Many cities and counties have stated that they will not detain people solely based on a detainer, unless ICE also presents a warrant or court order. Reasons cited by local officials include due process concerns regarding warrantless detainer requests and Tenth Amendment concerns relating to the different roles of the federal and local governments.
Legislative and executive actions have sought to penalize “sanctuary cities.” Recent court decisions have directly addressed this issue, and the U.S. Supreme Court has more broadly limited federal authority to direct local officials. In Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997), the court ruled that requiring local officials to perform duties reserved to the federal government—in that case, enforcing provisions of the federal Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act—violates the Tenth Amendment. The Constitution expressly reserves authority over immigration to the federal government, U.S. Const. Art. I § 8, cl. 4, so Printz would certainly seem to apply to federal efforts to direct local officials.