Portland Mayor: How Sanctuary Cities Can Stand Up to Trump

February 2, 2017, 3:35 PM UTC

President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw federal funding from cities that do not report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. This goes against our nation’s history and runs contrary to our highest values. America’s welcoming attitude toward immigrants is a core component of our national identity.

Under my leadership as mayor, the City of Portland will remain a welcoming, safe place for all people. If other cities believe that America is a nation built on immigration, and want to preserve the principles on which we were founded, I would urge them to follow our example.

But what does that mean in practice?

Some have stated that by virtue of living in a sanctuary city, undocumented residents are not subject to federal immigration laws and enforcement. This is simply not the case. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is responsible for enforcing federal immigration law, much like it is the responsibility of the Internal Revenue Service to enforce federal tax policy. Immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility.

This division of responsibility is clearly stated in the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution. In fact, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani—an advisor to Trump—went to court to defend New York’s status as a sanctuary city on these very grounds. My city will not aid in the deportation of our neighbors whose only offense is being undocumented.

My advice for my fellow mayors is this: Determine what the current laws are in your jurisdiction regarding undocumented migration enforcement and how they are carried out on a practical level. Having strong laws on the books is important, but the only way to truly protect all our residents is to ensure elected officials, law enforcement, and local courthouses are on the same page when it comes to putting those laws into practice.

I want to be clear: Our status as a sanctuary city does not mean undocumented immigrants are immune from justice should they commit criminal acts. Crimes over which we have jurisdiction—including murder, rape, and robbery—continue to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Contrary to hyperbolized myth, the majority of studies—including continued analysis by the Cato Institute—find that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, have lower crime rates than other demographic groups. Unfortunately, many of them fear our new president will marginalize them or rip their families apart through deportation. We have already seen an increase in hate crimes across the country and, troublingly, here in Oregon.


It is our charge as local jurisdictions to care for and protect all of our residents. People should not be afraid go to the police with information on crimes for fear that they might be deported. They should not be afraid to access critical services or seek refuge from domestic abuse and homeless services. They should not be afraid to bring their children to school.

In Portland, city officials and law enforcement are undertaking proactive outreach to immigrant communities to assure them that we will continue to serve and protect all our residents. We are listening to their stories, doing our best to understand their experiences, and taking their advice.

Portland is a thriving city because we have a growing population from a wide range of backgrounds who contribute positively to the fabric of our community. As mayor, I will ensure our city continues to embrace this identity. I fully expect the mayors of cities across the country to share this resolve, and stand up for the values upon which our country was founded.

Ted Wheeler is the mayor of Portland.

This is an edited version of an article that ran in The Oregonian on January 29.

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