A hard lesson: ‘Sanctuary’ laws present clear and present danger

A hard lesson: ‘Sanctuary’ laws present clear and present danger
© Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department

As 2018 came to a close, Newman, California, police Cpl. Ronil Singh, a legal immigrant from Fiji, was murdered. The man accused of fatally shooting him — illegal, criminal alien Gustavo Perez Arriaga — was a known Surenos gang member with previous arrests in the United States. Singh’s murder spotlights the “sanctuary” laws in state and local jurisdictions across the United States, locales that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officers, often by rejecting detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and refusing to share information about potentially removable aliens.

The president and Congress have a Constitutional obligation to protect American citizens with border enforcement and immigration laws. As part of his responsibility, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE developed a federal law enforcement strategy that sanctuary laws actively work against these constitutional obligations. The Department of Justice has determined that sanctuary laws are unconstitutional because they fail to recognize the primacy of federal law. 


It is important to note the administration is well within its legal rights to shape immigration policy and to expect compliance from the states. The Immigration and Nationality Act stipulates that crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor offense that carries a penalty of up to six months in prison for first-time offenders. Although versions vary among agencies, police officers swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States as well as those of their state and locality. Sanctuary status puts police officers in a moral dilemma, weighing the decision between upholding their oath of office or placating the political preference of their governing bodies. 

That’s why the Texas legislature preempted local jurisdictions’ sanctuary laws with passage of SB4, signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2017.

Recently, former Stanislaus County, California, Sheriff Adam Christianson echoed President Trump’s call for stricter border security as he criticized the state’s sanctuary law. The California policy, signed into law in 2017 as SB54, prohibits local law enforcement from notifying or sharing detained immigrants’ information with federal immigration agents when immigrants are not accused of serious criminal charges. “Law enforcement was prohibited because of sanctuary laws and that led to the encounter with Officer Singh,” said Christianson, whose office led the shooting investigation. “The outcome could have been different if law enforcement wasn’t restricted, prohibited, or had their hands tied because of political interference.”

As Kern County, California, Sheriff Donny Youngblood, whose officers captured Arriaga, recently said: “When you tie our hands and don’t allow us to work with our federal partners and communicate with our federal partners about people who commit crimes and who are in this country illegally, we’re going to have incidents like this, not just on police officers, but on the public that we serve and protect.”

These sheriffs and all law enforcement executives in America have a right to be outraged. There are nearly 1 million criminal aliens in the United States — that is, illegal immigrants who have committed additional serious crimes beyond immigration violations and identity theft or fraud — with final orders for removal but not enough officers or resources to enforce the orders. Arriaga is yet another example of a criminal alien who might have been detained by local authorities and then picked up by ICE.


Sanctuary laws often hide criminal aliens in the shadows of our communities, which allows additional ancillary and peripheral crime in neighborhoods and make it more dangerous for local law enforcement officers on the street. Sanctuary laws have no positive benefit to the country; in fact, they offer negative outcomes, including but not limited to:

  • Undermining local and state law enforcement authorities’ ability to keep the peace;
  • Preventing ICE from picking up criminal aliens within a 48-hour period;
  • Making ICE arrests more dangerous because they take place in the community instead of in a jail, resulting in unknown conditions and potentially injurious outcomes for officers and bystanders;
  • Compromising federal immigration opportunities for those following the legal system to come into the United States;
  • Costing billions of dollars a year in social services for criminal aliens and their family members;
  • Jeopardizing court cases of aliens released into the community who fail to show up for hearings;
  • Adding to the U.S. inmate population, and the associated costs, when criminal aliens are jailed for their additional crimes.

All these issues — and others associated with sanctuary laws — have come to a head in our communities and become a significant public threat. Law enforcement officers on the street should view this threat as a clear and present danger to themselves.

Police officers never fail to learn from the death of a fallen officer; it is one ways to honor their ultimate sacrifice. The lesson from Officer Singh’s death is clear, and ignoring it would be a dishonor to him and his family while making those who serve us in law enforcement more vulnerable to harm.

Bernard B. Kerik was the first deputy and commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, from 1995 through 2000, and a signatory to the Right on Crime Statement of Principles. As NYPD commissioner from 2000 through 2001, he oversaw its response to the 9/11 attack. He pleaded guilty in 2006 to ethics violations and was fined, then pleaded guilty in 2009 to eight federal charges, including tax fraud and false statements, which led to his 48-month sentence in a federal prison. He founded The Kerik Group, which provides clients with homeland security, police and correctional training, criminal justice and prison-reform strategies.