Though Los Angeles and USC have expressed their noble intention to resist federal policies aimed at deporting or detaining undocumented persons, doing so may create more problems than it would solve. This week, the Los Angeles Times reported that the federal government spends nearly $5 billion on California public universities each year. An additional sum of nearly $500 million goes annually to L.A. city programs like port security. Of critical importance to the Trojan community, USC received about $421 million from the federal government for research in 2015. All of these funds may be in jeopardy if proponents of the sanctuary movement actively combat the commands of the federal government. Even more concerning, though, is that obstructing the federal government’s lawful actions tears at the fabric of our constitutional republic.
First, it cannot be stated enough that undocumented individuals are human beings. They have undeniable human rights and their dignity must be protected. However, the United States is also a sovereign country that has the right to determine its immigration policy. We now have a president who apparently wants to make the country more isolated and xenophobic. We can debate the propriety of that day and night, but what we cannot deny is the facial legality of immigration programs aimed at removing illegal immigrants from the United States.
The supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution establishes that the laws and decisions made by the federal government constitute the supreme law of the land. History shows that blatant resistance to lawful federal acts carries grave consequences. This is what is at stake in the debate over sanctuary cities and campuses and their place in California in the Trump era. In short — like paying taxes — we may not like it, but we have to comply with unsavory acts if they are constitutional.
One such unsavory act is an immigration program from 2008 which was restarted by President Donald Trump last month. Known as “Secure Communities,” the program was initiated by President George W. Bush’s administration. The goal of “Secure Communities” was to share information and coordinate the actions of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel with regard to immigration control. In other words, local and state peace officers would be expected to work with federal authorities to apprehend, identify and deport undocumented individuals who had committed crimes. The program was canceled in 2014 under President Barack Obama.
While there has been controversy over the constitutionality of the program’s implementation, “Secure Communities” has never been deemed unconstitutional as a whole. Furthermore, Immigration and Customs Enforcement made it clear that “state and local jurisdictions cannot opt out of Secure Communities.” This effectively created a nationwide requirement to share the immigration information and biometrics of arrested persons suspected of being in the United States illegally with federal authorities. All of this means that law enforcement authorities throughout the state once again have an obligation to report information about suspected illegal immigrants to the federal government. This is in addition to the universal obligation to comply with legally issued warrants. If those apparently constitutional obligations are not respected, the resisting party can be charged with the federal crime of obstruction.
The federal government must always act in accordance with the Constitution, and where the government does not, it must be corrected. However, until the president’s decisions on immigration or withholding funding are deemed unconstitutional, they are expected to be followed.
Across the country, cities like Los Angeles and several college campuses have pledged to protect undocumented members of their communities. This is laudable in the current political climate. However, what must be understood is that this promise is likely all bark and no bite — and if it does bite, then it bites the hand that feeds. We cannot afford that.
Trevor Kehrer is a senior majoring in political science. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.