Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: What Is A Sanctuary City?

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Hello Everyone:

Time once again for the latest installment of Blogger Candidate Forum, your weekly look inside Trump America.  Yesterday Judge William H. Orrick  sided with San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, "who argued that a threat to take away federal funds from cities that do not cooperate with some federal immigration enforcement could be unconstitutiona."  ( date accessed Apr. 26, 2017) This comes a month after a federal judge in Hawai'i issued a massive freeze on the current version of that ill-conceived ban hours before it was schedule to take effect.  Needless to say POTUS tweeted his displeasure.  However, what about those sanctuary cites?  What are they and what are then; what should they be?

"San Francisco: A Sanctuary City"
These are the questions that Tanvi Misra ponders in her CityLab article "Adapting "Sanctuary Cities' to the Trump Era."  She wonders "If a city wants to offer meaningful protection to immigrants and non-citizens at risk of being deported, it may need to go further than what it takes to be called a sanctuary city."  Let us take a step back for a minute and try to figure out the definition of sanctuary city.

The term is fraught with ambiguity but has real consequences.  When POTUS signed that order in January (you can read it at, he sought to punish municipalities identified by this label by holding back federal funds.  San Francisco County sued.  In mid-March, nearly 300 legal scholars sent a letter saying the order was unconstitutional.  Ms, Misra writes, "As part of their argument, they take issue with the meaning of the phrase itself."  Annie Lai, assistant clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine and one of the letter co-authors wrote,

There is no single definition of what it means to be a sanctuary city...The term is often used to tarnish or celebrate-depending on the speaker-that cities, counties, and states have advanced policies to separate and distinguish themselves from federal immigration authorities.

Judge William Orrick and POTUS

The vagueness of the term has little relevance for the legal case opposing the order: it just makes it harder to figure out which of the "300-plus so-called sanctuary jurisdictions are at risk of losing funds."  Be that as it may, the divisive response to the phrase indications how loaded it has become.  Opponents of immigration believe that sanctuary cities obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from ICE.  Immigration advocates describe them as places that opt to disentangle the local justice system from immigration enforcement-"a definition similar to that provided in the letter."

This vagueness bred confusion, to say the very least.  Ms. Misra reports, "After the election, pro-Trump Bedford County, Pennsylvania, was surprised learn it was a sanctuary."  County district attorney Bill Higgins told The Washington Post:

The would be be popular with the locals...That would be a quick way to get voted out of office, like signing your political death warrant.

Mayor Garcetti at a campaign rally
On the West Coast, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has his qualms about the label.   "he's distanced himself from it, despite promoting many policies that invite that characterization.  Mayor Garcetti told National Public Radio back in January:

We've never declared ourself a sanctuary city; I still not sure what one is.

Sanctuary city illicit strong reactions stemming from the Reagan-era movement, in which American congregations provided shelter to Central Americans denied asylum.  In an aside Ms. Misra writes, "This 'sanctuary movement' is resurfacing today."  As the wording implies, cities that fall into this category are literally sanctuaries. Or are they?

No, they are not.  A 2013 report by the Migration Policy Institute a non-partisan Washington D.C,-based think tank, found, "The U.S. spends more money on immigration enforcement than on all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined." (; date accessed Apr. 26, 2017)   During former-President Barack Obama's administration, the budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement grew.  Thus, ICE have ample resources at their disposal to round up people, rightly or wrongly, regardless of what city they live.  This is precisely what they have been doing under previous and current administration.  Now, POTUS intends to triple the number of ICE officers and hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents.  In order make this happen "the government is planning to loosen hiring standards, according to an internal memo obtain by Foreign Policy.

ICE agents
Sanctuary cities make the argument that "they want to prioritize by opting out of the programs that require their police to actively help ICE or do its job." Therefore, the jurisdictions decline to sign agreements with ICE to allow the use of local jails for immigrant detention, opt out of the 287(g) program, "which deputizes local polices and detention officers with immigration enforcement, and refuse ICE's requests to hold people they think are deportable for extra periods of time in jail."  All of these programs have been singled out for exacerbating racial profiling and abuses of immigrant populations, encountering legal battles.  During the previous administration, serious criminals were prioritized for deportation, however, ICE typically went after individuals who were convicted for minor or no crimes whatsoever through some of these programs.  Sometimes American citizens and permanent residents are places in detention.  Thus, it is understandable that many of these cities would also avoid these programs for liability reasons.

Opponents of sanctuary cities
Opponents of the sanctuary cities have argued that "not participating helps 'put hardened criminals back on the street,' and have used tragic, high profile criminal cases involving undocumented immigrants to make their case."  Tanvi Misra writes in an aside, "Available research shows what, at the very least, cities with policies do not see a statistically significant increase in crime."  The interesting part is: sanctuary cities actually do routinely cooperate with ICE to deport real criminals, in a way that does not destroy trust in the immigrant communities.  Many of these jurisdictions circumvent their non-involvement rules.  A recent Buzzfeed investigation uncovered evidence that the Los Angeles Police Department participated in joint operations with ICE in which undocumented imm immigrant with no criminal history were taken into custody.  (; date accessed Apr. 26, 2017)

Immigrants taking the Citizenship Oath of Allegiance in Atlanta, Georgia
Now that we are almost at the one hundred day mark (Saturday) of the Trump administration, anyone without papers and even permanent residents with papers is a target for deportation.  Sanctuary cities have be lauded as the frontline of resistance.  However, some immigration advocates are wonder if the phrase "sanctuary city" has enough bite.  The issue, they say, "is that the mechanism by which immigrants are siphoned into the deportation pipeline are still largely intact, even in welcoming cities."  Laws passed during both Republican and Democratic administrations have expanded the categories crimes that make an immigrant deportable.  For example, carrying a small amount of marijuana or medication without a prescription, even turnstile jumping can be sufficient reason to deport someone.  Also, certain types of police practices create a wider net.  Shakeer Rahman and Robin Steinberg of the nonprofit legal services organization Bronx Defenders wrote in the New York Times:

Map of sanctuary cities
If cities really want to protect immigrants, they must also end the quota-driven style of policing that make immigrants the victims of unnecessary arrests and disproportionate punishment.

Many of these unnecessary arrests stem from the discredited idea that a draconian crackdown on the most minor offenses-littering, sell loose cigarettes, biking on the sidewalk-will prevent more serious crimes.  This model of policing, known as broken windows or zero tolerance, helped to drive mass incarceration.  Its next cost could be mass deportation.  (; date access Apr. 26, 2017)

Mijente (, an immigrants's rights organization, has called on sympathetic mayor to expand sanctuary.  They suggest reducing the penalties for minor offenses, deleting gang databases (considered inaccurate and racially biased), and giving access to legal representation to all immigrant in danger of deportation.

Back in Los Angeles, Leighton Akio Woodhous of the The Intercept reported "the mayor's office has not yet clarified whether folks with felony records would be allowed to access counsel using recently announced legal funds."  (; date accessed Apr. 26, 2017)  In the interim, Mayor Eric Garcetti's hesitancy to use the term "sanctuary city," though completely understandable, has frustrated advocates.

Hector Villager, the executive director of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union, told Mr. Woodhouse.

I would hope that for a city as terrified as it now, that he would just say sanctuary city...That's the language people understand; that's what would give comfort at this moment.

Minus any genius practical application of the phrase "sanctuary city" this refusal is to say the words and accept its symbolism appears twice as cruel.

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