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Janet Napolitano: 'No law' says sanctuary cities have to cooperate with the feds

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (Image source: CNN)

Janet Napolitano, former homeland security secretary for President Barack Obama, said Thursday that there is "no law" requiring local police forces in so-called sanctuary cities to cooperate with federal authorities when it comes to deporting illegal immigrants.

"Won't you be breaking the law if you don't cooperate with federal authorities?" CNN host Carol Costello asked Napolitano, who now serves as president of the University of California and has vowed not to cooperate with any law enforcement agencies to investigate students who may be in the U.S. illegally.

The former secretary responded, "No, there's no law that says you must cooperate with federal authorities. And, indeed, it is done consensually between law enforcement departments."

"Many, many, many law enforcement departments around the country are now saying, 'Look, we are not here to be [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents; we are here to focus on, in our case, safety on our campuses and to be adjunct immigration officers would be contrary to that primary mission."

But that brought Costello back to Napolitano's previous comment — that it's OK for the UC campus and other law enforcement bodies to just pick and choose what laws they obey. "So, if I don't cooperate with federal authorities, that's OK?" the CNN anchor asked, clearly bewildered.

"There's no law that requires a police department to [cooperate]," Napolitano repeated.

Technically, she's correct, as counterintuitive — and, for some, infuriating — as that might be.

As Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News' senior legal correspondent, explained in a column posted Thursday, the phrase "sanctuary cities" is not a legal term and municipalities cannot be criminalized for choosing not to assist the feds:

The term “sanctuary cities” is not a legal term, but it has been applied by those in government and the media to describe municipalities that offer expanded social services to the undocumented and decline to help the feds find them -- including the case of Chicago's offering undocumented immigrants money for legal fees to resist federal deportation. As unwise as these expenditures may be by cities that are essentially bankrupt and rely on federal largesse in order to remain in the black, they are not unlawful. Cities and towns are free to expand the availability of social services however they please, taking into account the local political climate.


The high court has also prohibited the federal government from “commandeering” the states by forcing them to work for the feds at their own expense by actively enforcing federal law. As Ronald Reagan reminded us in his first inaugural address, the states formed the federal government, not the other way around. They did so by ceding 16 discrete powers to the federal government and retaining to themselves all powers not ceded.

However, it is worth noting that, though cities cannot be criminalized for choosing to ignore federal authorities, they can be penalized for doing so. Should UC campus police and law enforcement in sanctuary cities all across the country continue to sidestep the feds when it comes to illegal immigration, the government can just cut off the money flow.

Since the Constitution doesn't plainly work in President-elect Donald Trump's favor when it comes to following through on his promise to deport all illegal criminal aliens, he will have to get creative. Trump can request Congress, which will be Republican-controlled, to tie funding sent to cities directly to their compliance with specific federal immigration laws. If the local law enforcement departments fail to follow through, the funding can simply be shut off.

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