Conflict Over Immigration Brews Between U.S. Cities And Feds
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A looming conflict over illegal immigration may be different than it seems. President-elect Trump's vow to deport millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally has evolved. Here's how he talked of the estimated 11 million during the campaign.
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DONALD TRUMP: If they've done well, they're going out, and they're coming back in legally because you said...
SCOTT PELLEY: You're rounding them all up.
TRUMP: We're rounding them up in a very humane way - in a very nice way. And they're going to be happy because they want to be legalized.
INSKEEP: Trump was talking with CBS. But rounding up so many and giving them due process on the way out of the country was never considered practical, so after the election, also on CBS, Trump spoke of a smaller goal.
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TRUMP: The people that are criminals and have criminal records - gang members, drug dealers - we have a lot of these people.
INSKEEP: Those are the ones he says he wants to deport now, and they are people that President Obama's administration already has deported in large numbers. During Obama's time in office, about 2.5 million people were sent out of the country. As that happened, many cities became so-called sanctuary cities, declining to help in federal roundups, but the sanctuary cities, too, are a little different than they've been portrayed. We had a conversation with the mayor of one such city. He's Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, and is considered a rising Democratic star.
Is Los Angeles a sanctuary city?
ERIC GARCETTI: I've never been quite sure what that term is because it's never been defined. And it comes from decades ago during the Central American civil wars when refugees were either admitted or not, depending on which country they came from. But here in Los Angeles, we have always cooperated with federal immigration officials that a court issues a warrant for. But we think it's the central duty of our local police officers to protect our streets, to investigate crimes, to build trust with communities.
INSKEEP: So you're saying that Los Angeles police will help to round up someone if there is a warrant for their arrest.
GARCETTI: We will hand somebody over that is in custody, and we consistently do that. But what we don't do is have police officers walking in the streets and saying, you know, let me see your papers, you look suspicious, or you seem to be perhaps an undocumented immigrant. That's not the role of local police.
INSKEEP: Wouldn't the Los Angeles police cooperate with federal law enforcement with other sorts of crimes, if you were investigating terrorism, for example, or racketeering, interstate crimes - any number of things.
GARCETTI: Well, let's be clear about the scale of this. We think there's as many as about 500,000 undocumented residents of Los Angeles and a police force of 10,000. I would have to stop my police officers investigating murders, looking at rapes, looking at the gang crimes, dealing with, you know, drug cartels. We would stop all of that work if we were tasked with immigration enforcement. The numbers are so large.
And it also builds incredible mistrust among the communities where families will have one member who is documented, somebody else who's not. They stop being witnesses to crime. They're preyed on more easily. This is not the way to keep our streets safe. It has the opposite effect. We need to have strong relationships between our local law enforcement and all residents of our city.
INSKEEP: Has your view changed at all as President-elect Trump's proposals have changed. He initially said on the campaign trail, I want to deport all 11 million or so people who were in the country illegally. More recently, he said, I just want to focus on people who are here who are criminals. He overstated that number. He said 2 or 3 million, but immigration experts say it's several hundred thousand people who actually, in some cases, have felony convictions. Do you have a problem with moving them out of the country?
GARCETTI: No. I think that we have participated in much of that, even with the Obama administration. And remember, the Obama administration - there was 2.5 million deportations, many or most with criminal aspects to them. Now, if somebody has a traffic ticket and forgot to pay, that to me is not what we should be focused on. We should be focused on violent criminals that are in our midst. And I think no responsible mayor would ever say no to the deportation of folks who have committed violent crimes in their communities who come under our custody. That's something that we do today.
INSKEEP: Will you stick with your policy even if the incoming administration follows through on a threat to cut federal aid to Los Angeles, which is in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year?
GARCETTI: Well, we're already seeing some hopeful signs. And I think a focus on what is in our mutual interest, which is violent criminals that need to be deported in a lawful and constitutional way, I think, will help us solve that issue. I think it's in all of our interests. The federal government needs to give the tax dollars that we pay back to the communities that pay it. I don't think that we want to start denying veterans who are homeless their vouchers to be able to get off the street. The federal dollars that we have are so important, and the chaos that would ensue I think if those funds were cut - we have a mutual interest in working this out.
INSKEEP: Wait a minute, Mayor. I think you said that as Trump's proposal has narrowed, as he's talked about kicking out fewer people, you've gotten closer to something that you could cooperate with. Is that what you were suggesting?
GARCETTI: Well, we already do, and that's what I'm - have been pointing out. If that is what the federal government under the Trump administration wants to do, which is to coordinate in a lawful way through courts when there are individuals who need to be deported, we do that, and we would be happy to continue to do that. What we are not going to be in the business of is deputizing local law enforcement officials to doing a federal job on immigration.
INSKEEP: I want to ask one more thing, Mayor Garcetti. There are many people, as you know, in more conservative parts of the country, especially, who have wished there was some way that they could opt out of the requirement to permit same-sex marriage, for example. And they have struggled against the fact that the federal government reigns supreme. If it did get to a conflict with the federal government, would you feel, as a city, that you had any right to defy the federal government over its immigration instructions?
GARCETTI: We abide by not necessarily what just the executive branch does, but what the Constitution says. If the courts have said that in order to have a detainer that we take local law enforcement and a suspect and hand them over to federal immigration officials, there should be a warrant for that. So I kind of take the Constitution as my guide more than who is in the White House at any given time, but I think that this administration should and will abide by that Constitution, as well. If people overstep the Constitution, we certainly will continue to be both a constitutional city and a welcoming city for immigrants, and those will be our guideposts.
INSKEEP: Eric Garcetti is the mayor of Los Angeles. Thanks very much, Mayor.
GARCETTI: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.