Sanctuary Cities

Author: N. Peter Antone

The topic of “sanctuary cities” has long been a debate in this country. Many politicians and presidential candidates have vocalized their opposition to sanctuary cities, and their existence has become one of the most contentious subjects for those most opposed to the continued presence and entry of undocumented immigrants in the United States. But what exactly is a sanctuary city?

There is no clear definition, but the term itself started to be used in the mid 1980s to describe church movements that aimed to shelter refugees from Central America. Since this term began as a humanitarian gesture, how has it evolved to become such a hot button issue in the country today?

The term today refers to cities that try to limit the ability of their employees, including city police, to enforce federal immigration laws. You may wonder what’s wrong with that.

To start with, you need not worry much about convicted criminal aliens. There is a current system of reporting most convicted criminal aliens to the immigration service by the courts that enter their conviction. Therefore, illegal aliens who commit crimes are for the most part reported to the federal government regardless of whether the city they are in is or is not “Sanctuary City”. What we are talking about then is the ability of local police to investigate the immigration status of individuals regardless of whether a crime has been committed.

But how are our local police supposed to investigate that in absence of a crime? The only way is for them to ask, but whom should they ask? People don’t walk around displaying their illegal status. Thus, the police will have to ask persons who look different from the majority of us, breaking the door wide open for abuse that comes with unlimited power. They may start asking citizens and lawful persons about their documents. When was the last time any of us walked around in a mall with our US passport ready to show to a police officer who may suspect us to be undocumented aliens?

Even if all of our police act with the best of intentions and exhibit respect to those questioned, how will they know who to ask, and what to ask or look for? How about the hundreds of millions who enter our country legally every year to visit, or to conduct business? Many of them do not have the type of papers citizens usually carry. Are we going to have those visitors, who are vital to our economy, be subject to the whim of a police officer who may not like their looks?

Furthermore, the population of non-citizens includes not only legal and illegal immigrants, but also a huge number of immigrants in questionable status who are on their way to become legal; a process that sometimes takes years to conclude. Sometimes, even immigration judges and lawyers spend years figuring out whether someone from another country deserves to be legally here or whether he or she must be deported. How is a local police officer supposed to figure out the answer in a short conversation with a suspected undocumented immigrant?

Furthermore, if the undocumented immigrant population is scared to have contact with local police, there may be crimes that will go unreported, witnesses that may not come forward, and the general population will suffer when immigrant communities will be less likely to cooperate with the local police.

Immigration is a federal issue. Its problems should be resolved by the federal branch of government. Dumping this problem on a local police force that is totally untrained to handle this task will divert resources from investigations of serious crimes, will endanger the civil rights of all of us, and will reduce the cooperation of many communities with the local police force, to the detriment to the rest of us.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about the intricacies of sanctuary cities, do not hesitate to contact us online today.