At least 33 states considered laws this year to crack down on “sanctuary cities” — nearly double the number from 2016 — following President Trump’s moves against communities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and Texas already passed laws this year that punish local governments and public universities that enact policies to protect undocumented immigrants, and other states are trying to follow suit.
Last year 18 states considered such laws, compared with only four in 2015, according to he National Conference of State Legislatures.
The rush comes after Trump's repeated warnings on the campaign trail about the dangers caused by "sanctuary cities" and his actions since taking office to cut off their federal funding.
"There's more sanctuary activity at the state and local level because of the president's marshaling confidence," said Dale Wilcox, executive director of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which has helped state lawmakers craft their bills. "This is what the president's executive order on sanctuary jurisdictions was meant to hammer home."
"Sanctuary city" is not a legal term, but a general description of more than 300 state and local jurisdictions that have some kind of policy that limits their cooperation with federal immigration efforts. Critics say those policies allow dangerous and violent undocumented immigrants to roam free, threatening the safety of their communities. Supporters say the policies are a legal and moral counter to demands from the Trump administration for local officials to conduct immigration enforcement, a federal responsibility.
The Department of Homeland Security has issued several reports to publicly shame sanctuary cities, and the Justice Department has sent letters to at least nine localities threatening to withhold federal grants if they do not fully comply with federal immigration efforts. Homeland Security suspended its reports because they were filled with errors, and a federal court heavily restricted Justice's funding threats, but state efforts continue.
The flurry of state laws this year is similar to 2010, when Arizona passed a law cracking down on undocumented immigrants and a half-dozen states soon followed with their measures. Many of those Arizona-style laws were struck down in the courts.
"Arizona proved to the rest of the country that (its law) was unconstitutional, bad policy and bad for business," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, which advocates on behalf of immigrants. "Now it seems like other states want to repeat that mistake."
After the 2010 wave of laws, the Justice Department under President Barack Obama sued several states in federal court, resulting in many of the measures being struck down. Wilcox pointed out those states can now move forward without worries the federal government will file a lawsuit.
"They know they won't get attacked by the DOJ (Justice Department), like Arizona or Alabama did under Obama," Wilcox said.
Kansas state Rep. John Whitmer, a Republican who filed an anti-sanctuary bill this year, said the increase in state legislation is because of the growing number of states and cities adopting sanctuary policies.
Whitmer said his bill, which he doesn't believe will pass, was a direct response to cities like Lawrence, Kan., that have shown a "flippant disregard for immigration law" by embracing sanctuary policies.
"This is our way of saying, 'OK, fine, you do it your way, and we'll see to it that you don't do it here,'" he said.