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Federal Versus Local Rights: ‘Sanctuary City’ Is Undefined Term

President Donald Trump and Texas Governor Greg Abbott promise to crack down on so-called ‘sanctuary cities.’ But many local officials whose communities have been tagged with the term argue that they do comply with current laws.

Some governors, mayors and other leaders say that complying with federal requests is voluntary. Geoffrey Hoffman is with the University of Houston Law Center. He says the Harris County jail cooperates with the federal government.

“They have voluntarily cooperated with the federal government under INA Section 287G.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner says Houston police will not racially profile — a stance other law enforcement agencies follow. But Hoffman says that’s not the same as saying they won’t honor legitimate federal requests. Adding to the confusion is at what point local and federal law enforcement cooperate — whether it’s at a crime scene, or later on in the booking process.

“Immigrants need to be able to approach the police and they need to be able to report crime. If you’re going after them and threatening them with deportation at the local level instead of the federal, then that causes a lot of hardship and a breakdown in the relationship between the community and policing.”

This may be shaping up to be a fight between federal versus local rights. One issue that may be resolved is the term “sanctuary city” — which isn’t defined in federal or state law.

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