In the 1940s, Jan Ting’s parents faced a difficult path to American citizenship following a U.S. immigration ban on Chinese workers that lasted 61 years.
Jan Ting: '43 just opened the door to Chinese 100 a year. One hundred per year could come in as immigrants.
Today, Ting is a law professor at Temple University—after serving as a top immigration official under George H.W. Bush.
Ting: I teach citizenship and immigration law, among other things.
Ting is also a strong opponent of sanctuary cities that shield illegal immigrants from deportation. That includes Philadelphia, where Temple University is located.
Ting: I think that it is wrong, I think it endangers public safety, I think it endangers our law enforcement officers, and it's just short-sighted.
Kevin Kamentez: it is our policy in general that Baltimore County police officers do not ask the immigration status of anyone that they encounter. That's not their job.
Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz supports his county’s sanctuary status even as he disputes the term.
Kamenetz: And if you are otherwise here in this county and you haven't committed a crime, that is you're otherwise law-abiding, then we are not going to interfere with that relationship whatsoever.
It’s a debate that’s raging across the country. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has identified about 300 sanctuary jurisdictions that have varying policies of non-cooperation. They include four entire states: California, Connecticut, New Mexico and Colorado; and cities and counties in 25 other states and Washington D.C.
Since 2014, these jurisdictions rejected more than 21,000 written requests from ICE to detain illegal immigrants who are accused of or convicted of crimes or considered a threat to national security. According to a new report from ICE, that put thousands of convicted criminals back on the street.
President Trump has promised radical changes.
President Trump: “We are going to end catch and release. We catch emoh go aheadWe catch em go ahead (crowd goes wild) under my administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country and back to the country from which they came.
Kamenetz says that’s a terrible idea.
Kamenetz: Because it would make illegal immigrants afraid to report when they’re victims of crimes or even hesitate to provide information if they can help solve one.
If our police officers were to start questioning anyone about their immigration status, then we would have some difficulties with that immigrant community.// why would we want to interfere with the relationship that we have if they were to somehow view our police officers as the immigration authorities?
Critics offer a compelling counterpoint: cases of illegal immigrants trampling on the rights of U.S. citizens like Kate Steinle. Less than four months before her murder in 2015, San Francisco authorities had refused a request from ICE to hold her accused killer for possible deportation. He had five previous deportations and seven felonies on record.
There are thousands of horrifying examples.
Don Rosenberg: Especially in San Francisco, they become a protected class. Whatever they do, they get away with.
Don Rosenberg's son, Drew was on his way home from law school in the sanctuary city of San Francisco when he was run over and killed by an illegal immigrant.
Laura Wilkerson’s son, Josh, was murdered a high school classmate and illegal immigrant with an arrest record.
Laura Wilkerson: He hit him so hard in the stomach that it made his spleen go into the spine and it sliced it in two. Then, he tortured him by strangling him then, he put him in a field and he set his body on fire.
And Sabine Durden's only child, Dominic, was a 911 dispatcher in the sanctuary state of California when he was hit and killed by an illegal immigrant with a long rap sheet.
Sabine Durden: He had a prior felony conviction, then he had a DUI. And he got put on probation with a DUI even though he had no license, no insurance, and no registration. So then he had another DUI while he was on probation for the first DUI.
In one recent two-year period, more than 66-thousand illegal immigrant criminals were set loose after being arrested in the U.S. Among them, they had 166-thousand convictions; 30,000 for drunk or drugged driving, 414 kidnappings, 11-thousand rapes or other types of assaults, and 395 homicides. Within a year, thousands of them had already been re-arrested and convicted of new crimes in the U.S., including felonies and gang offenses.
Ting: It’s not just Kate Steinle in San Francisco, although that was the highest profile cases. There are a vast number of, of brutal crimes committed against innocent Americans, um, by these people who were in custody, they were known criminals, and they were released because they were incarcerated in sanctuary city jurisdictions.
Kamenetz: Criminals come in all sizes, shapes, and forms in this country and, and obviously, we, we don't have sympathy for them regardless of their immigration status. Uh, but I guarantee you, there are tens of thousands or millions more who are law-abiding and would become really great citizens because they stand for the very values that we care for.
The controversy has only heightened with Trump’s election. There have been demonstrations at more than a dozen colleges and universities.
At least nine of them have declared themselves to be sanctuary campuses -- promising various levels of non-cooperation with U.S. authorities to protect their illegal immigrant students.
At Ting’s Temple University, the Faculty Senate and student petitioners are calling for the school to join the movement.
Ting: I think the sanctuary cities policies are wrong in so many ways, whether they're from states and localities or from uh, you know, universities.
Even before Trump’s election, the effort was underway to punish sanctuary cities.
Congressman John Culberson, a lead Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, pressed Obama attorney general Loretta Lynch to urge sanctuary jurisdictions to cooperate with immigration officials or risk losing federal funding.
Rep. John Culberson: If you expect to receive federal money comply with federal law.
Fmr. Attorney General Loretta Lynch: We feel that that the way to deal with this issue immediately and directly is to have the policy change as well as to have the review of the grant program.
Since then, the Department of Justice Inspector General has identified a top ten sanctuary list: California and Connecticut; Clark County, Nevada; Chicago and Cook County, Illinois; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; New York City; Louisiana’s Orleans Parish; and Philadelphia.
But after a meeting with President Trump in November, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio dug in his heels.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: I talked to him about concerns about proposed deportations. That proposal countered and flew in the face of all that was great about New York City, the ultimate city of immigrants.
Other sanctuary jurisdictions are also getting steeled for battle.
Kamenetz: To somehow suggest in, in a political uh, fit here, to, to say okay, Baltimore County, we're going to take away the 110 million dollars you received of federal aid every year, well you know what that money actually goes to? It goes to senior citizens, it goes to people who have mental illness// I think it really is um, somewhat spiteful to hurt people who have nothing to do with the immigration issue, uh in order to achieve their political goals.
But Ting hopes the Trump administration acts quickly and forcefully.
Ting: I think they need to announce clearly that uh they are going to use executive authority to cut off as much federal funding as possible, to uh all sanctuary cities, and if, if those communities want to litigate the issue, bring it on.