By Seth Daniel
The City of Chelsea, in conjunction with the City of Lawrence, filed an eight-count federal lawsuit in Boston Federal Court on Wednesday morning, Feb. 8, calling for the court to declare unconstitutional the Executive Order penned by President Donald Trump regarding stripping federal grant funding from Sanctuary Cities like Chelsea.
“On January 25, 2017, Defendant President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Order No. 13,768 entitled ‘Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,’” read the suit. “The Executive Order is a major affront to basic principles of federalism and the separation of powers. The Executive Order seeks, without congressional authorization, to commandeer local officials to enforce the federal government’s immigration policies, and threatens municipalities with crippling losses of funding, apparently including funding for programs with no connection to law enforcement, if the municipalities do not come to heel. Particularly for smaller and more impoverished cities and towns, the impact of this Executive Order is both immediate and chilling.”
The suit contains about 50 pages of arguments as to why the order violates both the 10th and 5th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, but one of the most interesting arguments made is that Chelsea is not a Sanctuary City – or rather a “Sanctuary Jurisdiction” as alluded to in the Order. The suit says Chelsea self-defines itself as a Sanctuary City under a City Council Resolution from 2007, and that does not mean it violates the law.
“The Executive Order also gives discretion to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ‘designate’ a ‘sanctuary jurisdiction,’ but no standards are given for how that designation may be determined,” read the suit. “Chelsea is not a ‘sanctuary jurisdiction’ within the meaning of the Executive Order because Chelsea is not in willful violation of (federal law). As stated in the June 4, 2007 (Sanctuary City) Resolution and the Chelsea Police Policy, the purpose of Chelsea’s actions are to promote public safety, not to willfully violate federal immigration law. Indeed, the Chelsea Police Policy explicitly outlines Chelsea’s commitment to cooperation with (federal programs) and criminal immigration efforts.
The suit explained that Chelsea, when arresting an illegal immigrant, does fingerprint them – like all those arrested. Those prints are run through a federal database and all detainers sent over by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been honored.
The suit explains that Chelsea Police do not do investigations into immigration status as a point of policy, nor are officers permitted to inquire about immigration status of someone they are in contact with.
Meanwhile, Police in Chelsea do cooperate and help federal officials in criminal matters, but they do not assist federal officials for civilian removals – when ICE takes into custody someone who has overstayed a visa or has no paperwork, but hasn’t committed a crime.
One of the first pleas for relief is that the court would declare that Chelsea is not a “Sanctuary Jurisdiction” under the stipulation made by the Executive Order.
The Order is also called to be ambiguous in directing the Attorney General to take appropriate actions against any entity that hinders the enforcement of federal law.
“This presents an immediate threat to Plaintiff Cities, which are now presented with a Hobson’s choice: either repeal policies that they have determined to be necessary to the safety and well- being of local residents, or submit to the mercy of the Attorney General’s determination as to whether they have in effect policies or practices that ‘hinder’ the enforcement of federal law,” read the suit. “Plaintiff Cities rely on federal funding to fill critical budgetary needs and, particularly as relatively small jurisdictions, cannot afford uncertainty over whether they will lose federal funds or be subjected to undefined “appropriate enforcement action” by the Attorney General if they are found to have policies or practices that ‘hinder’ federal law enforcement.”
The suit explained that about $13.9 million of Chelsea’s $170 million City Budget is federal grant money for things such as law enforcement and education.
Finally, the argument is made that the Order violates the principal of federalism, or the 10th Amendment, in forcing a state or municipality to conform to federal laws.
“The Executive Order itself also violates the Tenth Amendment and fundamental principles of federalism, as it purports to grant the Attorney General blanket authority to ‘take appropriate enforcement action’ to force state and local governments to conform local policies and practices to the dictates of the federal government, thus subjugating the policymaking authority of state and local government, and the voices of their electorates, to the regulation of the federal government,” read the suit.