The first time I ever heard about sanctuary cities was not in the most positive light. When you grow up away from the hustle and bustle of urban America, it’s easy to imagine these places as nothing more than dens of crime and refuges for people who flagrantly broke the law by entering the country illegally. Yet such a view could not be farther from the truth. If the Trump administration’s recently released memos detailing plans for mass deportations have shown us anything, it’s that American citizens do not need protections from immigrants, but rather immigrants need protection from us. My hometown, not known as a bastion of progressive politics by any means, recently became a sanctuary city. It’s a welcome development but is more symbolic than anything else. The next few years will be a test of the resolve of America’s major urban centers and the federal authorities. Who will win is anyone’s guess.
While the debate over sanctuary cities is relatively recent, they are not a new concept. Several decades ago, many people fleeing unrest in Central America came to the United States undocumented. Church groups and some municipalities provided them refuge. They were controversial then, and even more so now. Sanctuary cities do not technically have any specific legal definition, but generally, they are municipalities whose public employees do not ask people for their immigration status. Consequently, federal immigration authorities have a harder time using police databases to search for undocumented immigrants. This passive way of hindering federal efforts to crackdown on immigration are what make sanctuary cities so controversial. Opponents claim that they are violating federal law by harboring people who have entered the country illegally, but this is not entirely true. Sanctuary cities have no power to stop federal authorities from deporting undocumented immigrants, they merely refuse to enforce federal rules. This is no different than the discretion exercised by cities with regards to many different crimes. In addition, immigration law is written at the federal level, so technically local governments do not have a legal obligation to enforce these laws.
If the Trump administration cannot shut down sanctuary cities by legal means, they still have power over federal funds. This power, perhaps more than anything else, is what threatens the existence of these refugees. Many cities receive federal funding for a variety of things, such as law enforcement, education, and infrastructure. The Trump administration has threatened to withhold funds from sanctuary cities until they comply and help federal immigration authorities. For instance, there are now rumors that the rebuilding of my hometown’s most important highway bridge, originally a top priority in Trump’s infrastructure plans, may now lose funding, allowing it to further decay. The city of Miami, a huge immigrant center, has already caved to the new deportation orders for fear of losing federal funding. It remains to be seen if other cities will still hold out.
The way a nation treats its guests says a lot about its values and priorities. The Trump administration’s executive orders for the deportation of undocumented immigrants have made it crystal clear what those values and priorities are. The nation that was built by immigrants has decided it does not need them, nor did it ever. Never mind the utter hypocrisy of such a stance. In the age of ‘alternative’ facts, anything goes. I would like to think that the party of ‘small’ government and states’ rights would support the autonomy of these cities, but it seems that would be asking too much. This administration has made clear that it is not above being petty and is willing to destroy the lives of people who have built lives in the United States. Sanctuary cities will lose federal funding, starving their police of resources, making everyone less safe. Plenty of decent people, not just the “bad hombres” the President speaks of, will be rounded up and deported. Families will be torn apart and left behind children will be forced to grow up in poverty. ‘America First’ evidently means that non-American lives are worthless, simply nuisances to be removed, all in the name of ‘security.’ To that, all I can say is: sad.
This article was written by Ben Haller. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
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