On Sanctuary Cities

Among the long list of executive orders that President Trump signed in his first week in office was one designed to cut federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities”, those that refuse to enforce immigration laws or to aid federal law enforcement in any efforts to do so.   These cities (and in some cases states and counties) feel that federal law is wrong and they have announced that they will not only refuse to comply but will refuse to help federal law enforcement that is attempting to carry out federal law.

For a moment, let’s set aside opinions on immigration, whether from immediately south of the border or from elsewhere.   Certainly a topic for another day, but the debate over immigration is really a separate issue from the one over sanctuary cities and how to deal with or react, if at all, to those governmental bodies that have declared themselves ‘sanctuary cities’. The immigration issue is one of how to set policy about how non-citizens outside the US can legally enter the US.   The issue of so-called sanctuary cities is one about whether to enforce existing law.

We are in many ways becoming a society that feels we have to ‘win at any cost’ and that it increasingly is of lesser matter or consequence what you do in order to get what you want. In the political sphere, more and more, we witness attitudes whereby elections and our process of government are in danger of becoming increasingly disregarded and replaced by “but I don’t agree so I’m not going to do it no matter what”. That’s really the issue that we have here when we talk about cities that have said they are going to provide ‘sanctuary’ for those attempting to evade federal law on immigration. For whatever reason or justification, that’s the bottom line—hence the term ‘sanctuary’.

From a very foundational view, the fact that we have governments (be they cities or counties or states) that have publicly declared that they will ignore law is a big problem. Governments make and enforce laws. That’s their sole purpose. So for one portion of government to say that laws passed by any other legal governmental body can be ignored is not only a big deal but is destructive in its very nature. It strikes at the very foundations of civil society. If we would buy into that logic, what governmental body is to decide which laws are to be obeyed and which aren’t? Who decides which laws are ‘real’ laws that have to be obeyed? Is it just immigration laws, and if so what is so special about those? Why not any law? Don’t like it, tell everyone in your city that they don’t have to follow or enforce it.

Or let’s take the logical extension of that.  Can a particular part of a city just say they don’t like a city ordinance and then refuse to enforce it? Or one step further, can we all can decide on our own, as individuals? Can I say, “yeah, I don’t agree with _____   law so my house is a ‘sanctuary’ where that doesn’t have to be obeyed and no one can enforce it in my house”.   Same logic, so why not?

But more than that, at its base, officials in ‘sanctuary cities’ are almost assuredly violating their oaths of office. Every public official—including every police officer– is sworn in, and swears to uphold their duties and laws of the government that they serve. Well, immigration laws are some of those laws that they swear to uphold.

Further, let’s also be clear that those cities involved are saying that elections don’t really matter and they will ignore them when they don’t like the outcome. Let’s assume for a moment, for sake of illustration if nothing else, that our current immigration laws are bad. Fine, they can be changed.   Every part of the country has elected representatives that meet in Washington, which is where the law currently in place was made and where it can be changed. San Francisco may be the most famous ‘sanctuary city’ and the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives and current House Democratic Party leader Nancy Pelosi represents San Francisco in Washington. It’s not like San Francisco doesn’t have a voice- it actually has a very powerful voice. One that ran the US House of Representatives for years. But San Francisco doesn’t accept the fact that in our representative government not enough people agree with them. So it disregards the federal election results and they announce they are going to ignore federal law because they know better than everyone else. That’s pretty fundamentally opposed to the notion of representative government. Again, what would the San Francisco mayor say if part of the city said they didn’t agree with a city ordinance and just decided to ignore it? Or what if, say (purely for illustration) Fargo, North Dakota decided that they didn’t like federal environmental and labor laws and allowed a coal plant to be built using child labor? Who decides where the line is or what laws to follow? In our system of government, those who are democratically elected to represent us are the ones that decide. But sanctuary cities say that they know better than everyone else and they are only willing to live by certain laws. And for at least some that they don’t agree with, they don’t care about what anyone else says, elections or not.

I might be very inclined to support reform of our immigration laws, but that’s a logical debate on policy. We first have to settle the question of whether federal laws can be ignored. That’s the broad and very fundamental issue at hand. Forget the exact details of the law on the books. That’s a totally different issue.

As a practical matter, what are the implications? Unfortunately, we have one fairly recent dramatic example from San Francisco. Katie Steinle was a 31 year old San Francisco woman who was murdered while walking on the pier with her family in what appeared to be a random shooting. Her accused murderer is  45-year-old Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez and is the epitome of what is wrong with San Francisco and an example of the most bottom parts of humanity. He is a repeat felon who has been deported five times to Mexico (count ‘em, five), according to immigration officials.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which had Lopez-Sanchez in its custody after his last release from federal prison, turned him over to San Francisco deputies because he was wanted on a drug warrant. ICE said they requested an immigration detainer, asking only that the agency be notified before Lopez-Sanchez was released.  But San Francisco knows better and refuses even to notify the federal government when they are letting someone out of jail, so Lopez-Sanchez was released back into US society, where he didn’t belong to start with. In a leap of intellect and logic that almost defies imagination, Freya Horne, chief legal counsel to the San Francisco County Sheriff, said he was let go because there was no legal cause to detain the suspect. (five felony convictions from someone not legally in the country wasn’t enough proof so, unfortunately, this legal genius now has another murder to prove she was wrong. She should ask for a refund from the school where she got her law degree).   This is an example of one of the practical implications of arrogance ‘sanctuary cities’. How in a case so egregious, can anyone mentally competent decide that this was a reasonable course of action and then even after the fact defend it? Unfortunately, Katie Steinle paid for San Francisco’s arrogance.

A 2011 GAO report said that roughly 55,000 or 3% of the federal prison population are ‘criminal aliens’, those aliens convicted of a serious criminal offense. So the problem is not an insignificant one, no matter how it’s spun by apologists. And if we take rough figures quoted on how much it costs to keep someone in prison, then that population costs almost $2 billion a year just in financial terms.

For the federal government to continue to give money to cities that refuse to obey federal laws like the rest of us is simply silly. So on this one issue, President Trump is spot on. To refuse to address the ‘sanctuary city’ is not only destructive to society but inherently contradictory. It’s akin to your teenage child asking for money to go to the movies and you saying “Sure but be home by 11” and then the child saying, “No, I’m going to the 11:15 showing” and then you not only say nothing but give them money anyway.

1 thought on “On Sanctuary Cities”

  1. I suspect that the example you gave at the end is exactly the problem. We have parents that don’t parent and officials that don’t uphold the laws. Everyone is avoiding responsibility and conflict when they do not come off as the “good guy”.

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