Make Your City a Sanctuary City: 4 Practical and 4 Moral Reasons

Photo credit: "Definition of Justice," by NY - http://nyphotographic.com/ Creative Commons 3 - CC BY-SA 3.0

There’s an entire underclass of people living among us.

These are people like you or me who have no choice but to do the most menial jobs for meager pay under the table. And when reality-TV-stars-turned-politicians like Donald Trump come around offering to solve all our problems with magic, you know who they blame for everything? THEM!

They’re illegal immigrants. They had the gumption to flee countries with worse economies than ours for the privilege of being our construction workers, housekeepers, gardeners and janitors. They are the fruit and vegetable pickers and the restaurant workers putting food on our tables.

They don’t collect social security, they don’t have health benefits or retirement plans and employers can pay them less than minimum wage. Heck! We can do almost whatever we want to them because who are they going to complain to – the police? If they do anything to get noticed by the law, they could be deported. So they keep a low profile doing the work no one else wants while the rest of us allow ourselves to be fooled into accepting them as easy scapegoats for all our ills.

What we need are sensible immigration laws that offer these people a path to citizenship, a way for them to climb out of perpetual servitude and fear. But that would cost us too much money, so it will never happen.

The least we can do – literally the least – is allow them some moderate amount of safety. We can let them partake in the minimum advantages of our society – protection from crime, a safe place to live, schools for their children, and an end to the fear that at any moment they could be kidnapped and taken away.

It’s called being a sanctuary city and more than 300 urban centers across the country have officially or unofficially adopted it as their local policy.

Though there’s no clear legal definition of sanctuary cities, in places like New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Houston, it goes something like this – if someone questions a person’s immigration status, local police don’t investigate it. You arrest someone for a non-violent crime, he does his time, then you let him free. If he has a long rap sheet, all bets are off, but in general you don’t hold him past his sentence for the feds to come and drag him away unless he’s got a substantial criminal record.

These sanctuary policies came under fire after the July 2015 death of Kate Steinle, a woman who was shot and killed in San Francisco, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant and repeat felon who had been deported five times to Mexico. He was being held by police but was released when drug charges were dropped. Police clearly made a mistake. Most law enforcement – even in sanctuary cities – would have contacted Homeland Security about someone like Lopez Sanchez. Moreover, deportation isn’t an answer either because Sanchez had already been given the boot multiple times. Unfortunately, the case has become the poster child for everything that’s supposedly wrong with these policies.

Trump became President on the backs of a promise to deport up to 3 million illegal immigrants because he said they are more violent and sanctuary cities result in increased crime. However, as are most things that come out of his mouth, it’s simply not true. These people are less likely to commit serious crimes than those born in the U.S. They can’t attract attention to themselves. Even in sanctuary cities, going on a crime spree is a sure way to get yourself deported.

On average, between 2011 and 2013 immigration courts ordered about 414,650 people removed from the country. Adding to those numbers won’t solve the problem, but there is something we can do.

If you live in a sanctuary city, protect that status. If you don’t, lobby to make your city a place of sanctuary. There are plenty of good reasons to do this – some practical, some moral. Here are four examples of each:


Practical

1) Holding Suspected Illegal Immigrants Drains Resources

Local and state police departments are not made of money. Like most public services these days, law enforcement agencies are cash-strapped. They only have so much funding to spend protecting and serving communities. Holding people in jail who are suspected of being in the country illegally costs money – money we don’t have to waste.

Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security has refused to even prioritize deporting convicted illegal immigrants. Suspects can spend days, weeks or longer in lock up waiting for the feds to get in gear.

It has become increasingly common for law enforcement to let these people go instead of taking responsibility for what is, after all, a federal job. Between January 2014 and September 2015, local and state law enforcement agencies declined 18,646 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, the Texas Tribune found. The majority were from California, where the notion of sanctuary cities first took root.


2) Holding Suspects Without a Warrant Can Get Your City Sued

Not all sanctuary cities lean left like Los Angeles. Many are deep in the red states and deeply conservative. In 2014, sheriff’s departments across the country announced that they would no longer honor detainer requests from the federal government. Instead, they would require ICE to get a formal warrant or court order before they would jail someone longer than they would otherwise.

The reason explicitly laid out in policy memos and press releases in places like rural Oregon, eastern Washington, and Kansas was to avoid expensive lawsuits. Federal courts in Pennsylvania and Oregon ruled in 2014 that detainer requests are not legally binding. In other words, counties jailing people based solely on those detainers could be violating individuals’ rights.

So these cities are trying to shield taxpayers from potential lawsuits. Residents may not consider themselves to be in sanctuary cities. Officials and sheriffs in these areas may even object to the label, but they are effectively doing the same thing.


3) Complying with the Feds Infringes on Local Autonomy

No one likes to be told how to do their job – especially police. Some law enforcement experts claim that the federal government is overstepping its authority by demanding state and local police to comply with requests for detention.

When Louisiana was considering a state law banning sanctuary cities, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, a Republican, gave legislators an earful at a senate hearing on the matter: “Don’t come down here with some overarching bullshit Republican philosophy from Washington, DC…. and tell me how to do my business!” he said. “This bill goes down to discretion of a frontline officer and usurps my authority as a manager in how I’m going to deal with my officers… Give me a break!”


4) Holding Detainees Makes Law Enforcement’s Job Harder

Being a police officer is hard enough. If the people in the community you’re trying to protect and serve are afraid you’ll detain them for suspicion about their immigration status, they’ll be less likely to co-operate in the everyday business of policing.

People will flee from police on sight because they’re afraid some minor incident is going to get them deported. This is exactly what happened in North Carolina after the state passed a law requiring officers to fully comply with ICE, according to Jose Lopez, the Durham police chief.

Some agencies say it leads to mistrust between the community and the police, because victims and potential witnesses don’t come forward to report crimes. The fear of being deported is too strong. That is a real threat to public safety.


Moral

1) Violations of Human Rights/Unconstitutional

Detaining a person in jail for unspecified periods of time simply on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant is certainly of dubious legality, but it may also be immoral.

It certainly creates a situation ripe for corruption and graft. From 2004 – 2012, it was common for law enforcement agencies to enter into agreements to help federal authorities with immigration enforcement. These agreements allowed local jails to house undocumented immigrants after they had served time on state charges and then bill the federal government for this service.

Unfortunately, this turned detainees from suspects into sources of revenue and profit. The program was widely criticized because it incentivized detentions in the same way that for-profit prisons incentivize convictions. Local jails made money from detaining suspected illegal immigrants, so detentions skyrocketed. Suddenly every brown-skinned person walking the streets was a potential payday.

People disappeared without warning, explanation or recourse. Inmates sometimes were passed along to jails in other municipalities without any formal notice to family members, then into the immigration court system for an expedited removal hearing. In some cases, people were returned to their home countries in weeks. Detainees were unable to communicate with embassy officials from their countries of origin or notify family members of their arrests. They were simply gone.

At very least, it was a potential violation of international human rights accords. Civil liberties groups called it a vehicle for racial and ethnic profiling. One Tennessee sheriff said it allowed him to “stack these violators like cordwood.” The system was out of control. More than one analysis of who was deported and what happened during that process showed that most were people initially arrested for minor traffic violations and who had no criminal record.

This is not how you should treat people no matter how they may or may not have entered the country. Disappearing people is the mark of a fascist state, not the land of the free, home of the brave.


2) Historical/ Biblical Precedent

Offering sanctuary has a long and respected history.

The concept derives from the ancient imperative to provide hospitality to strangers. In Greek cities, slaves and thieves took sanctuary at the shrines of the gods. In Biblical times, people who committed accidental murder could escape to sanctuary cities where they could remain in safety. These cities of refuge were places for wrongdoers who did not merit the fullest sanction of the law but were instead supposed to be kept separate from the community for a certain period.

In the Middle Ages, accused felons were allowed to seek sanctuary in any church. They could stay there, fed by neighbors for up to 40 days. When they emerged, they could confess, give up all their belongings and go into exile. This delayed prosecution so the community could cool off and not make judgments in haste. It gave the community time to determine the facts and come to a fair sentence.

Even in America, sanctuary is not a new concept. Though we have been criticized for not doing more, we have continually offered safe harbor to thousands of refugees fleeing violence in other parts of the world from Central America to Africa to central Europe. This is why some municipalities use the term “sanctuary city,” – to connect with this long history. Their morality demands they protect immigrants.


3) Immigration Law is Broken, Unfair and Unjust

Sanctuary cities aren’t the problem. Our immigration laws are. Allowing rampant deportation does nothing to solve the very real issues we have with citizenship. We are, after all, a country of immigrants. It makes little sense to kick out people many of whom have longer ancestral ties to these shores than the white majority. This is our land? Actually, many illegal immigrants could make a stronger case for ownership.

In addition, illegal immigration is a breach of civil law, not criminal. Therefore, violators don’t deserve to be deported. They deserve a chance to make things right, to become full citizens. Our laws don’t adequately protect the needs of the strangers who, for the most part, have crossed the border to take work that is eagerly offered them. Deportation is purely a bureaucratic enforcement system, which can include long detainment and judgment without judge or jury. It’s an arbitrary prejudicial policy, not just law.


4) Deportation can be a Death Sentence

Some asylum seekers don’t come to this country just to find work. They’re fleeing incredible violence in their home countries. If we simply deport them, we may be sending them to their deaths.

Officially, asylum is limited to individuals who can provide evidence that they have faced persecution or might be killed if they return to their home country. And U.S. law says that most people caught inside the United States should be given a chance to prove those claims in an immigration court. However, there are more than 445,000 people awaiting immigration hearings. Most of these people cannot make a successful asylum claim but might have some other legal defense such as proof of a U.S. citizen parent or grandparent.

Even so, mistakes have been made. Expediting deportation, holding hearings in secret, etc. increase the potential that we’ll have blood on our hands. Many would rather err on the side of caution especially when the stakes are this high.


 

As we see, there are many reasons to make your city a sanctuary city. It’s a bipartisan decision that’s being politicized. The Trump administration is using the worst kind of racist dog whistles and proto-facist propaganda to convince the public that deportations must increase and sanctuary cities must be abolished.

However, there are plenty of practical and moral reasons to think otherwise.

The best argument against sanctuary cities is Trump’s threats to use the federal government against states and local municipalities.


Losing Federal Funding?

Trump has threatened to take away federal tax dollars from sanctuary cities. Last year, a proposal to defund sanctuary cities, introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), was blocked by Senate Democrats. Yet at least 18 states, including Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania, have considered comparable bills.

If these measures pass, they could cost municipalities billions of dollars.

But doing so would have drastic consequences for the federal government as well. It would be tantamount to declaring war on states and local governments. These monies that they’re threatening to withhold come from taxes. It’s our money!

The political fallout of such a decision would be disastrous for any administration foolhardy enough to go through with it. At very least it would destroy the Republican brand as being against federal intrusion and for states rights. Libertarians, alone, could flee the party in droves. And when the next election cycle came, the administration would find itself quickly out of office.


 

Becoming a sanctuary city is not without risk. However, it is the right thing to do. It protects your community financially, legally and morally. And it forces us to confront the real issue that no one wants to face – we need rational immigration policy. We can’t continue to live as a society with an underclass.

If we really want to make America great, that may be the first thing to do.

This article was originally published on Steven Singer’s GadFlyOnTheWallBlog. Steven is a featured blogger at Raging Chicken Press.