Apparently there are over 30 so-called sanctuary cities in America, where police forces are instructed to refuse to ascertain the legal status of anyone they detain whom they might otherwise suspect to be an illegal immigrant. It started in 1979 in Los Angeles with an internal police department policy. Now the current chief of police of LAPD, Charlie Beck, has proudly stated he will be upholding this decades old policy, and so the LAPD will continue to refuse to cooperate with the ICE when they arrest someone suspected of being in the country illegally. LA mayor Garcetti practically encouraged political violence if on the first day of the Trump presidency “we see something that is hostile to our people … we will speak up, speak out, act up and act out.”

Unadulterated tribalism, and secession from the rule of law. San Francisco – it goes without saying – has announced similar sorts of things. As has Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Trump’s home town of New York. Surely there are a few more sanctuary cities that will aggressively confront President Trump, even on his first day in office. Or at least state that that is their intention.

That is a problem with state rights, and by extension, local rights. You can’t be sure what any given state or city will do with greater autonomy. So are sanctuary cities within their rights to be defying the rule of law? Specifically immigration law in America?

If they are, then immigration law is no longer a national prerogative. It becomes a state right, not a federal one. One can hardly imagine that federal immigration authorities will agree to this. And it goes without saying that Trump will certainly be willing and eager to take on sanctuary cities. But are the funding penalties, taking away federal funds from defiant sanctuary cities, the only route available to President-elect Trump?

Ultimately this should end up in the courts. Although at it’s most basic level, it is about the fundamental structure of America itself. Because if sanctuary cities increase in number and aggressively defy current immigration law, then the law no longer applies in major urban centers around the country. And federal law on immigration is no longer an effective reality. So that, de facto, you no longer have a unified republic, but rather large swaths of America surrounding city-states. We’re already moving in that direction, and this election can be seen as an angry rebellion against the emergence of privileged, wealthy city states on either coast.

Because once you have sanctuary cities in terms of immigration policy, why not in terms of drug policy, of abortion rights and health care policy, and on and on. Oh. It sort of is that way already. And yes, the 10th amendment – in its clarity, brevity, and breadth – does allow for much of this, at least at the state level, if not the municipal level. But if the 50 states are to continue to be united in a free flow of people, ideas, and capital, then immigration rightly should be, and is, a federal power.

One doubts that sanctuary cities actually want to mount a legal challenge to federal immigration law. In other words, they are essentially, de facto, engaging in rule-breaking by executive order. Except it’s the head of local police departments, or the mayor’s office, that are the executive. Not the Obama White House. And if every mayor’s office and police department did what they saw fit regardless of what the law says, then what kind of rule of law do we have?

Because the defiant rule-breaking can run the other way, should a police chief or mayor with a different perspective calculate she or he has the right local political climate to get away with it. Want all children of illegals in any city turned over to the ICE? If you take the de facto route, it just depends on who’s in power. That’s the problem with de facto. That’s why America has a constitution, and the rule of law. Let’s hope sanctuary cities realize this someday.

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