There is not much disagreement among Americans that there should be a standardized process for non-citizens to enter America, and those who fail to meet those requirements should be subject to punishment and/or deportation.
The means to get there is the sticky point.
Of course, there was once a point in our nation’s history when the lone requirement was simply to make it to Ellis Island. A doctor would take a look at you to make sure you’re relatively healthy , and voila, you were allowed to live here, although the path towards citizenship still remained murky, at best.
Indeed, if you’re reading this, you almost certainly descend from somebody who had that very experience. Of course, times have changed, and the criteria to become American is understandably — and appropriately — more stringent.
There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. If you ask some conservative thinkers, their solution would be to round them all up and toss them out tomorrow. That’s just not realistic for an abundance of reasons.
For one, it would put our economy in a tailspin. Undocumented workers contribute billions of dollars in taxes each year. In some cases, they contribute more than those in the top 1% tax bracket who get numerous tax exemptions.
Secondly, it’s simply impossible to identify who is illegal and who is not without discriminating and infringing on people’s rights. Strict and forceful deportation policies create an environment of fear among all immigrants, legal or not.
And this is what brings us to sanctuary cities.
The term derives from a religious movement in the 1980s, when churches felt a moral obligation to shelter Central American refugees from countries fleeing war and persecution. By taking them in, they were subverting the law, but offering sanctuary to innocent victims escaping the horrors of their home nation.
The term has since become more heavily politicized, and was taken to a whole new level during the 2016 election as the central platform focus of Donald Trump.
In 2017, the term “sanctuary city” conjures up images in people’s minds of a lawless city where illegal immigrants can do whatever they want without being criminalized.
But the truth is, according to many published accounts, that local police departments support sanctuary cities.
What qualifies a location a sanctuary city is their refusal to cooperate with the federal immigration agency, ICE, which essentially has a mandate to use any means to identify illegal immigrants and give them the boot. Cities that cooperate with ICE are requested to keep inmates in jail even when they’ve been cleared for release so it can be determined if they should be deported or not.
Not only does this open cities up to potential lawsuits when a detainee is, in fact, legal — which has precedent — but it exacerbates that sentiment of fear between immigrants and police. It eliminates any incentive for immigrants to cooperate with police, thus taking away what could have been a valuable source towards tracking down actual illegal immigrants who are continuously breaking the law.
So while sanctuary cities do exist as a symbol of America’s growing diversity, their primary function is to create a safer environment within cities between residents and police.
Now this isn’t meant to be a total defense of illegal immigrants. They should migrate to America legally. Though it should be noted that while there are plenty of real life incidents of undocumented persons committing violent crimes — sometimes even murder — against innocent Americans, statistically, it doesn’t make it any more likely that an illegal immigrant will commit murder more often than someone who was born here.
Immigration is a very complicated issue. Sanctuary cities are just a part of it.
Next time you hear someone complain about a sanctuary city, maybe you can inform them that they don’t exist as a safe haven for murderous gangs from Latin America, but rather, as a place where local police departments can act in partnership with residents to enforce the law and track down those who truly abuse their privilege of living in America.