An ICE agent arrests an Iranian immigrant in California in May.
An ICE agent arrests an Iranian immigrant in California in May. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

The Illinois TRUST Act is an effort to resist federal pressure to crack down on undocumented immigrants.

As anti-sanctuary cities proliferate in jurisdictions across the country, a new bill in Illinois aims to hobble the reach of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the state.

On Monday, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner will sign the Illinois TRUST Act (SB-31), which restricts local law enforcement from handing undocumented immigrants over to federal immigration agencies without a judicial warrant. Under SB-31, local law enforcement is also prohibited from making arrests, stopping people, or detaining them based solely upon the basis of their citizenship or immigration status.

Under current administration guidelines, when police arrest or detain an undocumented immigrant, they run his or her fingerprints through the system. If those prints are a match in the DHS database, a federal immigration agency will receive a notice. ICE then issues what is known as an “immigration detainer,” a document requesting local law enforcement to keep the person in custody until a federal agent can come in. The TRUST Act is designed to make sure that the feds come with a warrant, not just a detainer. “It doesn’t completely remove ICE from our communities,” says Tara Tidwell Cullen of the National Immigrant Justice Center. “But it will help reduce deportations, because ICE does depend so much on these detainers.”

SB-31 is the first statewide bill that targets immigration detainers, but it isn’t without precedent: In 2014, the Colorado Legislature repealed a law that required law enforcement to assist federal immigration authorities. Mark Silverstein, the Civil Director of the ACLU of Colorado, said at the time that the law was especially damaging to victims of domestic violence, who were afraid to approach police for help.

In Illinois, where 4 percent of state’s population is undocumented, according to a report by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, TRUST Act backers say that asking local police to participate in immigration enforcement damages their relationship with the community they’re tasked with protecting. “We want anybody to feel free to call the police, and we would like to get the word out that this bill should make anyone living in Illinois feel comfortable about calling the police and getting the service they need,” says Ed Wojcicki, the Executive Director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

Since Trump took office, police chiefs in Houston and Los Angeles have said that fewer people in the Latino community have reported crimes, and both blamed an increased fear of deportation for the underreporting. As FiveThirtyEight found, crime reports from immigrant-heavy Latino neighborhoods in particular are falling. Anel Sancen, a member of Mujeres en Acción, recalls her uncle being violently attacked in Chicago and not going to the police because he was afraid they would start questioning his immigration status.

“A simple traffic stop—or if I call the police for being a witness to a crime—shouldn’t be something I have to start worrying about based on my immigration status, shouldn’t be a quick push down the deportation pipeline,” Sancen says.

Nationwide, ICE arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants have doubled from this time last year. In the wake of the Trump Administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, some cities have established themselves as “sanctuaries,” but the term is ambiguous and not well understood. “Those words can be inflammatory and can suggest that an organization or law enforcement is going to turn their back on federal law, and that’s not true,” Wojcicki, who resists the idea that the TRUST Act establishes a “sanctuary state” in Illinois. “[The bill] still allows local law enforcement to communicate with federal officials, to hold people if there’s a judicial warrant. It also protects people’s rights not to be held if there’s no reason to hold them.”

Sanctuary cities also don’t protect immigrants who live outside of a city’s bounds. “There are 66,000 undocumented Asian Americans [in Illinois], and they can’t all be living in Chicago,” says Paula Camaya, a member of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago. “A lot of run-ins with ICE and police were happening in the suburbs. [With the TRUST Act] the state is showing that, despite what is happening on a federal level, undocumented immigrants can continue to live their lives—they shouldn’t have to have the luck of living in a city that has a welcoming ordinance already.”

Chicago already has a policy in place for dealing with undocumented immigration: Their Welcoming City Ordinance looks very similar to the new state bill. But the TRUST Act would remove some of Chicago’s exceptions. Currently, police officers are permitted to honor immigration detainers if the person they have detained is in the city’s gang database, has felony prosecutions or convictions, or is the subject of an outstanding criminal warrant.

Some fear the state bill’s limitations on local law enforcement could also have an unintended consequence—a rapid expansion of ICE. “Detainers, local involvement, came about because the earlier strategy—federal raids and sweeps—were such bad optics. So they redirected their efforts to what was a little bit more invisible: picking up people who were already in jail,”says Rick Su, a a University of Buffalo law professor who focuses on local government law and immigration. “If they see they’re not going to get local cooperation, we may see a dramatic expansion of ICE, neighborhood raids, and workplace raids.”

Workplace raids, which were first rolled out during the Clinton administration, received considerable pushback. “Presidents have learned to their peril that these high-profile, police helicopter, handcuffs, TV cameras-style raids have real costs that ultimately come back to haunt them politically,” Michael Wishnie, a professor at Yale Law School, told Public Radio International.

As a result, the Obama administration chose to rely on backdoor tactics like immigration detainers, where federal immigration agents could slip into prisons rather than storming workplaces. But that technique only works when local law enforcement cooperates. Should the federal government go around that by expanding ICE, the ability of local lawmakers to protect immigrants would decrease.

The Trump administration has been actively confronting cities that resist federal immigration policy. Soon after taking office, the president signed an Executive Order designed to prohibit federal funding to “sanctuary jurisdictions.” In July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that cities and states could lose millions of dollars in federal grants unless they cooperated with immigration agents. A federal judge temporarily blocked the Trump administration from withholding funds for sanctuary cities, and Chicago recently filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department to ensure that it receives grant money.

If Illinois has to file its own protective court case, it will find that many of the legal precedents being used in court to support sanctuary-type policies come from Republican-backed cases. “One thing that’s very ironic about what’s going on right now is that the whole states-rights argument and stalling federal expansion has traditionally been a conservative argument,” says Su. One such case, Printz v. United States, ruled that the federal government could not force sheriffs to perform background checks on guns. The 1997 ruling established that states can check federal power, and can be used to argue that local officials do not have to enforce federal immigration laws. There is also federal precedent for what the TRUST Act in particular aims to do: In 2014, Galarza v. Szalcyzk ruled that local law enforcement can disregard immigration detainers.

“What was negotiated is something that we can live with, we can accept, and we’re glad to do it,” says Wojcicki. “The Illinois chiefs, we had a lot of conversation with immigrant groups, we think we had a lot of good negotiation and reasonable conversation.”

For Tara Tidwell Cullen, the TRUST Act’s success is a sign that law enforcement and grassroots groups, Republican assembly members and Democratic lawmakers, can come together to create policy. “It’s a real signal that communities are able to work together,” Cullen says. “It turns on its head the idea that there’s nothing we can do in this climate to defend immigrants.”

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