Since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, municipal officials across the United States have vowed to resist federal encroachment on “sanctuary” policies that protect illegal immigrants. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has fashioned himself into a modern-day Orval Faubus, railing against federal intrusion into local matters with the defiant enthusiasm once shown by Dixiecrat diehards.  

According to de Blasio, “the Constitution protects a lot of the rights and powers of localities. That’s how it was built.” In fact, the Constitution says a lot about the rights and powers of states and nothing about the rights and powers of cities, but those kinds of legal quibbles are less important to New York’s political class than the opportunity to pander to favored constituencies—even if, in this case, that constituency cannot vote. “Sanctuary” has become a shibboleth of municipal politics, where willful blindness to immigration status is portrayed as a sacred bond, above the law.

What, practically speaking, does sanctuary mean in America’s largest city? The signature accomplishment of de Blasio’s first term in office is the creation of a municipal identification card called “IDNYC.” This photo ID card, available to anyone who can demonstrate residence in the city, regardless of legal status, was primarily intended as a means for the “undocumented” to possess a government-issued credential attesting to their identity and residence—allowing them to open bank accounts, enter government buildings, and the like. Initial registrations for IDNYC surpassed all expectations, and to date, almost 900,000 people have obtained one, which suggests that estimates of New York City’s population of illegal immigrants—about 500,000—could be low. 

Prescient legislators anticipated that a future president might be unsympathetic to the cause of documenting the undocumented. The original 2014 IDNYC legislation authorized the city to purge all the underlying records by the end of 2016, lest they be used to facilitate deportation roundups. As of December, Mayor de Blasio was fighting in court to preserve the city’s right to destroy the old data, and he has vowed no longer to retain any records for newly issued cards. Thus, the city will now issue official photo ID to anyone who can present a gas bill and a foreign passport—and then erase all records connecting the cardholder to his or her purported identity. Here, in plain view, we see a municipal administration doing its best to disguise possible identity fraud and assist in the violation of federal law. Another key feature of New York’s “sanctuary” status has been an official policy of non-cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as it seeks to deport illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes. Under Mayor de Blasio, the city has forced ICE to abandon its office on Rikers Island, the city’s jail. New York City no longer honors requests to detain illegal aliens convicted of nonviolent crimes unless a judge orders it to do so. 

The mayor insists that New York City is still safe under his “sanctuary” regime because the law “delineates dozens and dozens” of crimes that will lead to removal of the illegal aliens who have committed them. These dozens and dozens of other crimes are not considered serious enough to merit detention for deportation, however. For instance, felony convictions for bigamy, incest, child abandonment, or diversion of prescription drugs do not disqualify one from freely pursuing one’s dream of a better life in New York City. Nor do felony convictions for insurance fraud, welfare fraud, any form of larceny, or money laundering (except in support of terrorism) merit remand to federal custody of criminal-alien fraudsters or (non-terrorist) money launderers. 

Surely it is a great boon and comfort to illegal aliens residing in New York City, and many other jurisdictions around the country, that a sanctuary policy protects them from deportation. It would be helpful if someone could explain what benefit sanctuary accrues to the rest of us.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images


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