Biden once called for a ban on sanctuary cities; Where does he stand now?

After calling for a ban on sanctuary cities in 2007, Joe Biden’s current position is unclear, as the Obama administration’s legacy on immigration becomes a pressure point for the former vice president in the Democratic presidential primary.

When Biden was running to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2007, he was unequivocal when asked at a debate about whether he would allow sanctuary cities to ignore federal law.

“No,” he responded.

{mosads}Hundreds of cities across the U.S., many with Democratic mayors or city councils, say local authorities should not have to comply with federal law by reporting to immigration agents when they come into contact with those in the country illegally.

Advocates for sanctuary cities say the law discourages illegal immigrants from reporting to the police when they are victims of crimes. And they argue that federal overreach has led to a spike in deportations of otherwise law-abiding immigrants over minor infractions.

President Trump has kept the issue in the spotlight, threatening to withhold federal funds from cities that fail to cooperate with immigration officials and highlighting instances in which those in the country illegally have committed violent crimes against American citizens.

Earlier this year, the Biden campaign released a statement saying that the former vice president opposes Trump’s “crackdown” on sanctuary cities, including the efforts to starve the municipalities of federal funding.

“[Biden] believes that the Trump Administration’s approach to immigration, including its crackdown on sanctuary cities and especially its repugnant treatment of migrant children, is contrary to our values as a nation,” said spokesman Andrew Bates.

But the Biden campaign did not respond to several follow-up questions from The Hill about whether he supports any enforcement efforts designed to ensure cooperation between local and federal officials in sanctuary cities.

The issue could become another flashpoint between Biden and his Democratic rivals, who have sought to use his past positions and the Obama administration’s immigration policies against him.

“We’re looking for clarity from Biden and all of the 2020 Democrats on this issue,” said Angel Padilla, the national policy director for the liberal advocacy group Indivisible. “We have safer communities when you disentangle immigration enforcement from local law enforcement.”

Biden has tied himself closely to former President Obama, bringing renewed scrutiny on their administration’s position toward sanctuary cities.

The sanctuary cities movement flourished during the Obama-Biden years, in part as a reaction to the administration’s record deportations, which earned Obama the derisive nickname of “deporter in chief” from immigration activists.

The centerpiece of the Obama administration’s policy was called Secure Communities, which required local officials to fingerprint suspects and send the information to federal immigration officials to identify people in the country illegally for deportation.

Blowback against the program was severe, as immigrant advocates fumed over deportations associated with minor infractions while cities reported a growing distrust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.

The administration abandoned Secure Communities halfway through Obama’s second term.

“Its very name has become a symbol of hostility toward the enforcement of our immigration laws,” then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said at the time.

Secure Communities was replaced by the Priorities Enforcement Program, which aimed to prioritize violent criminals and those who present national security threats for deportation.

Obama administration officials spent months negotiating with city officials over the terms of the program. Some, such as Los Angeles and Miami, bought in. Others, such as Chicago, responded with a hard no. 

{mossecondads}But as recently as 2016, the Obama administration angered immigrant advocates by circumventing sanctuary cities through a change in federal policy that required the Bureau of Prisons to turn prisoners over to immigration officials for deportation, rather than returning them to local authorities.

Former Obama administration officials say Obama struck the right balance between national security and immigrant rights.

“He understood the need to demonstrate that the border was secure and that we were enforcing the law and not embracing open borders, while also being a pragmatic party leader who had to draw lines somewhere,” said John Amaya, the deputy chief of staff for Immigration and Customs Enforcement under Obama.

Biden’s rivals have sought to use the Obama administration’s immigration policies against him.

Several 2020 contenders have accused Biden of standing idly by as the administration sent a record number of people in the country illegally back to their home countries.

At the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio repeatedly asked Biden if he thought the 3 million deportations under the Obama administration were a good idea.

Biden said he wouldn’t reveal his private conversations with Obama, but said they had “moved to fundamentally change the system” and that “much more has to be done.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) fired back, accusing Biden of trying to “have it both ways.”

“You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign,” Booker said. “You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge when it’s not.”

Biden has moved to the left in some areas of immigration, surprising political watchers at the first Democratic debate in Miami by coming out in support of providing health care for everyone, including those in the country illegally.

In other areas, he has sought to hold the center, refusing to join the contenders advocating to decriminalize illegal border crossings.

Proposals to decriminalize border crossings, which are fast gaining steam on the left, have alarmed former Obama administration officials, who warn that it is tantamount to an open borders policy and will be exploited by Republicans in the 2020 election to cast Democrats as extreme on immigration.

Meanwhile, sanctuary cities are back in the spotlight under Trump, who has repeatedly threatened to withhold federal funds from cities that fail to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Those efforts have been tied up in the courts, with the Trump administration triumphing in some instances and the sanctuary cities winning victories in others.

Trump has also threatened to retaliate against officials who disobey federal law by transporting those being held at the border to be released into sanctuary cities.

At a rally in Cincinnati last week, the president sought to highlight instances in which those in the country illegally had committed violent crimes against Americans.

“The job of elected officials is to represent American citizens,” Trump said. “The radical Democrats even support deadly sanctuary cities which release dangerous criminals onto our streets, sanctuary cities.”

“They want virtual immunity for illegal aliens who have committed horrible crimes and murder, horrible crimes and murder,” he added. “Republicans believe our cities should be a sanctuary for law abiding Americans, not criminal aliens.” 

Tags Bill de Blasio Cory Booker Donald Trump Joe Biden
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