Why Sanctuary Cities Are a Terrible Idea (And Why They are Necessary)

As we have all heard by now, San Francisco is a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants. The murder of Kathryn Steinle there by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a man deported five times previously, has sent shockwaves across the country and has reignited the national debate over what should be done about illegal immigration.

The killing last week of a San Francisco woman (Kathryn Steinle), allegedly by an undocumented immigrant (Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez) with a felony record, has put the spotlight on the city’s policy of refusing to honor federal requests to hold on to people found to be in the country illegally. San Francisco authorities released suspect Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez in April after dropping the drug charges on which they had asked federal authorities to turn him over — even though federal officials had asked the city to let them know if they were going to cut him loose. The city, however, doesn’t honor such immigration detention requests under its 26-year-old sanctuary law.

CNN defines a “sanctuary city” as:

There’s no legal definition of a sanctuary city, county or state, and what it means varies from place to place. But jurisdictions that fall under that controversial term — supporters oppose it — generally have policies or laws that limit the extent to which law enforcement and other government employees will go to assist the federal government on immigration matters. Some communities use nonbinding resolutions, executive orders, police department policies or orders, while others use laws to enforce such policies, according to the Congressional Research Service. In San Francisco, for instance, a 1989 law called the City and County of Refuge Ordinance prohibits city employees from helping federal immigration enforcement efforts unless compelled by court order or state law.

The article goes on to say that there are over 200 state and local jurisdictions in America who “have policies that call for not honoring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention requests.” Read the whole article. It is quite helpful. The presence of sanctuary cities in America highlights the problem with our immigration system and shows why we need a reform. They are a terrible idea, but they are also unfortunately necessary in the present environment.
A Terrible Idea

How in the world did we get to a place in America where we have over 200 jurisdictions that have decided to ignore Federal law and Federal agencies who are mandated to enforce the law? Being a Southerner who lives in Montgomery, Alabama, I am very familiar with this concept. It is the same idea that Southern segregationists used back in the 1950’s and 60’s to attempt to ignore Federal law and Federal agencies calling for an end to racial segregation. They used the arguments of “states’ rights” and there were Southern governors like Ross Barnett of Mississippi, and John Patterson and George Wallace of Alabama who talked about concepts like interposition and nullification. Interposition and Nullification are legal concepts that basically say that individual states (or states working together in concert) are capable of interposing themselves between Federal laws and the people of their state on issues that they deem unconstitutional. Or, they are able to nullify Federal laws that they consider to be wrong or unconstitutional. Since the Constitution is the law of the land and it describes the way that governmental power works in America, it has been decided over and over again that individual states do not have this right and that it is the Federal judiciary that decides which laws are constitutional or not.
Fair enough and this has largely been for the good. But, since the 1980’s, we have had a growing number of municipalities that have decided on their own that they are not going to cooperate with Federal law or Federal agencies that exist to enforce that law. Do these cities realize that they are taking the same approach that Southern segregationists took as they sought to promote and defend White Supremacy against the correcting influence of the Federal government? How can over 200 municipalities set their own approach to immigration law and enforcement while expecting the rest of America to follow Federal law in other areas that certain regions or cities might disagree with? The right thing for San Francisco and other “sanctuary cities” to do is to lobby and work to have Federal law changed instead of establishing themselves as a law unto themselves. The result, if their approach is applied to other areas of agreed upon law is anarchy.
But, that is essentially what we have – in more ways than one and not just from “sanctuary cities.” So, I am against “sanctuary cities” on the one hand, and I agree that they make enforcing immigration laws much harder. However . . .
Yet, Totally Necessary
I am for Sanctuary Cities, as a concession, because we live in a country with a broken immigration system. We need reform and legal status for the undocumented immigrants who are here and who are working and are otherwise obeying the law. The last 30 years of immigration policy in America has been a disaster. Business, in collusion with government, has allowed undocumented immigrants to come, given them jobs, and reaped billions in profits from hiring low wage labor. The immigrants (actual people, mind you), have been lied to, abused, and used for the profit of many, from huge corporations to farms to the contractor who put the roof on your house. For 30 years, America has been both against illegal immigration while welcoming them in as cheap labor through the back door. Some undocumented immigrants have been here for years and have had children born here who are now American citizens.

America can enforce its immigration laws and SHOULD do so. But, America won’t do that. America is NOT going to deport 12 million undocumented immigrants. There is ZERO political will for that move and a large majority of Americans, including Republicans, do not want this to happen. Any politician who calls for mass deportations of non-citizens is also calling for the ripping apart of families, tens of thousands children being essentially orphaned and placed in foster homes, and a significant impact being created on a number of industries who depend upon immigrant labor. Plus, it just isn’t going to happen. Never. No matter what anyone thinks about it.
So, while it is completely wrong for municipalities to refuse to cooperate with the Federal government on immigration enforcement that the Feds initiate, I understand why and think that it is appropriate for cities to not act as de facto immigration agents that constantly try to enforce immigration law. I also think that it is appropriate for cities to let the undocumented immigrant community know that they can come to them and report crimes committed against them without fear of deportation. However, if the Feds initiate action, then the city will and should cooperate with the government.
Sanctuary Cities are needed, in a sense, because IF millions of undocumented immigrants are going to be here and will NEVER be deported en masse, then cities need a way to work with them. Sanctuary Cities are the result of a broken governmental and economic system when it comes to immigration, cheap labor, and millions of people living in a country without legal status. The whole system needs to be reformed.
The horrible murder of Kathryn Steinle by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez in San Francisco, a sanctuary city, should highlight for us even more than ever the dramatic need for holistic immigration reform. Lopez-Sanchez should never have been in the United States and he never should have gotten back in. That is a no-brainer. So, how do we fix this? Some ideas:
Border Security. The border needs to be as secure as possible. But, one question arises there: When has the border ever been more secure than it is now? With drones, fences, patrols, and billions of dollars spent every year, one must ask if the border was more secure in the 1950s? 1960s? 1990s? The answer is clearly “no.” The border is more secure now than it has ever been. Politicians who only talk about securing the border are doing this to keep the issue on the table as something that they can use to say that they are for without actually doing anything about it. Yes, let’s secure the border as much as we can. Increase funding and security. But, that is just one component of the immigration reform that is needed.
Visas. The visa process is incredibly difficult to navigate and often places the person who comes here at the mercy of their employer. Work visas not tied to employers and visas related to entrepreneurship (and a lot more of them) helps give companies the workers that they need and helps give immigrants the freedom that they need to work and prosper here. This mobility of labor will also help to drive wages up as immigrants are not fearful that if they leave their employer they will also be deported.
Legal Status. 12 million people are not going anywhere but do not have the legal status to be here. They are forever in limbo and are living in the shadows. Many of their children are U.S. citizens. They will not self-deport. Many of them have nowhere to go and the government will not send them away. It would cost billions of dollars to do so and it would be an ethical nightmare as families would be torn apart all across America. These people need legal status that would allow them to come out of the shadows and participate in American life. They need to be able to work and pay taxes and call the police if they need them without fear that they will never see their children again if they do. This will also help their children as their parents will be able to better themselves and launch their children more effectively into participation in the American Dream.
Stopping Crime. The entire system is backlogged and a mess. Sanctuary Cities have grown up as a response to a system that uses people for labor but does not give them sanctuary for other aspects of their lives. But, if the 12 million people that are here have the ability to work and participate in society honestly and legally, then those who are actually criminals (and the numbers are very few in relation to the larger population), can be more easily identified and permanetly deported or extradited for imprisonment.
Family Values. As a Christian, I believe that families are stronger when they are together and when children are raised by a mother and a father who are able to shepherd and guide them and participate in life with them. The current immigration situation makes that very difficult for thousands and thousands of families. It casts a shadow of fear over these families that is paralyzing. Comprehensive immigration reform that grants legal status to those who are otherwise obeying the law and working hard helps keep families together and creates a platform for them to grow and prosper in America.
One argument against reform states that undocumented immigrants should just leave and go home and that they deserve nothing from America as long as the came here illegally. I get that. It is an argument that makes sense when a few American citizens are talking and complaining about the situation. But, it is never going to happen and our government is never going to ensure that it happens. Our politicians are not going to work for that. Sometimes we need to be realistic and think about what is actually going on instead of our social and political fantasies. And, then we need to ask why those are the fantasies that we entertain in the first place.
The BEST answer is to give legal status to the 12 million undocument immigrants that are presently here, secure the border as best as we can, reform the visa system to enable immigrant workers to shop their skills to employers without being bound to just one under fear of deportation if they quit, bring people in from the immigrant community to cooperate and help law enforcement identify and prosecute dangerous criminals, and seek to keep families together for the sake of the children growing up here.
Sanctuary Cities are a terrible idea and should be done away with. But, they illustrate how terrible the overall situation is and why we need immigration reform from all directions, including government and business. Only in a country that does what we do with business and labor and poor immigrants could sanctuary cities pop up they way that they have.
Let’s do away with the methods of the old Southern segregationists who employed interposition and nullification to ignore Federal law the way that the Sanctuary Cities are doing. But, let’s also address the overall problems that exist with the millions and millions of undocumented immigrants who are here that Sanctuary Cities highlight. Let’s take away the reason for them to do what they are doing by reforming a system that says to 12 million people that they will never have a place here, but that they will also not be sent away because it costs us and business too much money to do so. Let’s fix this.

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