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Another Voice: Buffalo must protect its immigrant residents

By Nicole Hallett

President Trump has been in office barely three weeks and he has already kept his promise to transform the immigration system.

The executive order banning refugees and individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries has received the most attention. However, two other executive orders signed by Trump have the potential to affect far more individuals.

These executive orders drastically expand the categories of immigrants prioritized for deportation, mandate detention for every immigrant in deportation proceedings, remove the right to a hearing before a judge for a large number of immigrants facing deportation and reinstate a program that attempts to turn local police departments into a deportation force.

One of the orders also targets so-called “sanctuary cities,” which have decided not to help the federal government enforce immigration law. The order directs the attorney general to study how to withhold federal funding from jurisdictions with these policies.

In anticipation of Trump’s attack on sanctuary cities, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued guidance on how cities can protect their immigrant citizens without running afoul of federal law. Noticeably absent from the list of cities planning to use the guidance was the City of Buffalo.

Indeed, after the order was issued, Mayor Byron W. Brown made clear that Buffalo is not a “sanctuary city” and that he had no plans to adopt policies that restrict the Buffalo Police Department’s ability to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. The director of the Office of New Americans went so far as to say that such policies would not make a “positive difference for city residents.”

This is wrong. All Buffalo residents, including noncitizens and undocumented immigrants, must feel comfortable communicating with local police and reporting crimes without fear that the police will turn them in to federal immigration authorities. This does not just protect the immigrants themselves; it protects the entire community by increasing cooperation with local police.

Indeed, cities that have adopted such policies have lower rates of crime than those without. The city can adopt such policies without calling itself a “sanctuary city,” a loaded term that has no legal meaning. But it cannot rely on individual police officers to make decisions regarding the city’s policies with respect to its immigrant residents.

The city should take this opportunity – when many immigrants are terrified of the new president’s actions – to reaffirm its commitment to its immigrant communities. Despite the bellicose language in the executive order, these policies are legal and the federal government cannot strip federal funding from cities that refuse to be commandeered into enforcing federal law.

Now is the moment for Brown and the City of Buffalo to be a leader on these issues and to stand up for immigrants who call Buffalo home.

Nicole Hallett is assistant clinical professor of law at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

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