Legal and grassroots groups from New Haven are working against threats from President Donald Trump that target sanctuary cities.
In a Jan. 25 order titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” Trump vowed to strip funding from cities that do not comply with federal immigration law. The order would affect sanctuary cities such as New Haven — those where law enforcement officers are directed not to inquire about residents’ immigration status. On Jan. 31, San Francisco became the first city to sue the federal government over the order with help from students and attorneys at Yale Law School. At the same time, community organizations are also preparing for potential raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. In the same executive order, Trump instructed ICE to hire 10,000 additional officers.
“I think there are some very serious reasons for hope that Donald Trump’s plan regarding sanctuary cities will be found to be unconstitutional even by a conservative Supreme Court,” said James Bhandary-Alexander, a staff attorney at New Haven Legal Assistance Association and a visiting clinical lecturer at the Law School.
Although the LAA itself is not involved in the San Francisco lawsuit, it has been assisting the immigrant community in New Haven in preparing for potential raids against undocumented residents, Bhandary-Alexander said. This includes co-organizing “Know Your Rights” workshops and assisting parents or guardians in making child custody plans and plans that would protect their assets in the event of deportation.
Bhandary-Alexander explained that the central legal question in the San Francisco lawsuit is whether the federal government has the power to direct local law enforcement agencies to use their resources to enforce federal immigration law. Many conservative legal scholars have worked to set limitations on the federal government’s reach, he said, making it quite possible that even conservative judges would rule in favor of the cities’ autonomy.
Yale Law School Professor Heather Gerken leads the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project, a partnership clinic between the Law School and the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. After the city filed the lawsuit, it was Yale students that helped put it together, she wrote in an email to the News. However, she added, the Law School itself did not sign onto the suit.
She said the suit challenges the government on statuary and constitutional grounds, and that if San Francisco wins the lawsuit, the decision will likely be helpful in setting a precedent for other sanctuary cities, such as New Haven.
“The students worked round-the-clock to help [San Francisco], and it ended up being the first-in-the-nation challenge to the President’s executive order,” Gerken said.
Local community organizations, including Junta for Progressive Action and Unidad Latina en Acción, have focused on working within New Haven to create safety nets in case an ICE raid occurs.
ULA organizer John Lugo said ULA is working with the city and the New Haven Public Schools system to try to make New Haven as safe as possible for all its residents. He said merely preventing the New Haven Police Department from communicating with ICE is not enough, as it will not prevent ICE from entering the city. Like Bhandary-Alexander, he emphasized the importance of organizing “Know Your Rights” workshops and educating members of the immigrant community on what to do in the event of a raid. ULA is also working on increasing safe spaces within the community where undocumented residents can seek shelter, Lugo added.
“To have a real sanctuary city, you have to have actual policies that will protect residents,” he said.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
ULA was established in 2002 by Guatemalan migrants in New Haven.