|Image from the Fugitive Slave Act|
Today we are going back to the subject of sanctuary cities. This time, we going to look at the historic context of these jurisdictions. The best place to understand them is to step back in time to the Civil War-era. Just as contemporary American cities are opting out of enforcing immigration laws, prior to the Civil War, Northern states chose not to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, a legal move supported by the United States Supreme Court.
Tanvi Misra's CityLab article, "Lessons From the 'Sanctuary Cities' of the Slavery Era," offers an illuminating look how Northern cities defied law and gave refuge to Slaves, fleeing the Southern states, and what we can learn from this moment in history.
|Fugitive Slave warning|
Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from remove United States. these jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic... (http://www.whitehouse.gov; date accessed Mar. 14, 2017)
The city of San Francisco has challenged the administration, arguing that it violates the tenth amendment to the Constitution, a challenge supported by some legal experts. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution states,
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, to the people. (http://www.law.cornell.edu; date accessed Mar. 14, 2017)
Tanvi Misra writes, "In doing so, it launched the first counterstrike in what might a long, tumultuous battle between the local and federal governments on immigration."
|"Practical Illustration Of The Fugitive Slave Law"|
Ms. Misra writes, "Baker writes that a version of sanctuary cities existed in the late 18th century, in the form of Northern jurisdictions that refused to capture and return fugitive slave-'America's first significant class of refugees.'" The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 guaranteed slaveholders the right to retrieve escaped slaves. However, without the cooperation of the individual states, it was difficult to enforce. Ironically, demanding tighter compliance contradicted the Southern states cherished belief in States's Rights. Prof. Baker explained,
Tanvi Misra reports, "In 1842, the Supreme Court backed up the ideas of dual sovereignty. The ruling in Prigg v. Pennsylvania said that the issue if fugitive slaves was indeed a federal matter, just like immigration is today." In essence, the states, could not enact laws that interfered with federal "but they also had the right to opt out of enforcing it." Once again Prof. Baker explains:
..This meant that city constables and sheriffs were instructed not arrest suspected fugitive slaves, that state jails were closed to federal marshals who had fugitives in their custody, and that state judges would refuse to issues warrants or certificates of removal. Into the breech stepped free blacks and their white abolitionist allies, who organized protective societies and became increasing bold in their opposition to federal law enforcement. Sanctuary cities became like fortresses. (Ibid)
|Cartoon supporting the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850|
Are you beginning to understand the precedent in the challenge to President Trump's ill-conceived executive order? Constitutional law and Supreme Court ruling appear to be on the side of cities like San Francisco. Little more history.
During the pre-Civil War-era jurisdictions that opted out of assisting federal law enforcement were not called sanctuary cities. The phrase comes from the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, when houses of worship provided shelter for refugees from Central America who were denied asylum. The sanctuary movement was a response to the Reagan-era restrictive asylum police, which supporters of the movement viewed as immoral.
|"Solidarity in 1980s Sanctuary Movement"|
Other cities followed suit since 2008, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement began asking local law to detain alleged undocumented immigrants for additional time, even if they were not charged for a crime. Ms. Misra writes, "The constitutionality and legality of ICE's 'detainer' requests, which sometimes even target American citizens, have since been challenged in court." Regardless what the name implies, the current 300-plus sanctuary cities are not making an effort to prevent federal authorities from deporting criminals rather, they are just establishing their own priorities reminiscent of what the Northern states in the Antebellum era.
[States' rights] modern association with "massive resistance" to desegregation has tarnished it to liberal eyes. but sanctuary cities are cut from the same constitutional cloth-the very same that gave abolitionists the cover they needed to resist the Fugitive Slave Act. Sanctuary cities' resistance to federal immigration law depends upon local popular support, legal and political assistance from the state, and a constitutional regime that respects the integrity of two sovereigns sharing the same space. (Ibid)
The point of this history lesson is "...resolving the local-versus-federal fight may not necessarily end the political divide that caused it in the first place." The decision in Prigg v. Pennsylvania allowed Congress to expand the federal mechanism to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, fueling more resistance among Northern communities that federal authorities did not have the resources to put down. Citizens rioted, shamed slave catchers, and held mass protests outside places where slave were detained. In 1860, the Southern states seceded. As they say, "the rest is history."