First there were the Salem Witch Trials. Then there was McCarthyism. Now the banshee of national hysteria is pointing its finger at sanctuary cities. In the last few months, a rash of state governments has proposed bills to ban so-called “sanctuary cities,” even if there are no such cities in their states.
On February 3, 2016, the Florida House passed a prohibition on sanctuary cities – municipalities with policies to avoid prosecuting undocumented immigrants simply for being in the country illegally (they can be prosecuted for other crimes). The Republican-backed bill requires local governments to detain people suspected of being undocumented immigrants. It permits the governor to fire community officials who follow “sanctuary” policies. And it allows families of people killed by undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities to sue local government.
On February 11, an Arizona House panel voted to cut off state funding to sanctuary cities. There are no such cities in Arizona, and the language of SB 1070 already effectively bans them. But the bill, HB 2223, does target Phoenix, which plans to implement a municipal ID that could be used by all residents, including undocumented immigrants.
Also this month, Wisconsin lawmakers are weighing two bills – one that would forbid sanctuary cities and one that would block communities from issuing municipal IDs to undocumented immigrants.
Meanwhile, Virginia is debating bills that would strip state money from sanctuary cities (it’s unclear whether there are any such cities in Virginia) and would allow citizens injured by undocumented immigrants to claim damages.
Fueling the paranoia, the Ohio Jobs and Justice PAC publishes a (black)list of nationwide sanctuary cities so long its founder, Steve Salvi, recently posted a plea on Facebook asking for volunteers to count it. His justification for listing many of these cities is dubious, considering he names Mesa and Chandler, Arizona, as sanctuary cities.
“Sanctuary cities recognize that immigrant victims and witnesses will not report crime, and crimes will therefore go unsolved and unpunished if immigrants fear that local police are acting as immigration agents.”
The case against sanctuary cities is as thin as garlic skin.
On July 1, 2015, Kathryn Steinle was walking along the San Francisco waterfront when she was fatally shot by Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant who had previously been deported five times.
Politicians and the anti-immigrant crowd claimed the tragic incident would never have happened if San Francisco weren’t a sanctuary city. They said it was one of numerous incidences of “illegal aliens committing crimes.” In fact, immigrants commit crimes at a much lower rate than native citizens. And though it’s still unclear how the shooting happened, everything about the case points to it being a one-off incident. Lopez Sanchez claims he found the gun and accidentally set it off. He also says he was under the influence of sleeping pills. Some people posit he may have mental health issues. And he was only in San Francisco because the federal government transferred him there because of an outstanding warrant against him for marijuana possession.
Still, many authors of the recent anti-sanctuary city proposals mentioned Kathryn Steinle as the impetus for their bills, putting up pictures of the beautiful blonde woman to further their cause.
Proponents say sanctuary policies help create trust between police and immigrant communities, allowing immigrants to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement. Advocates also stress that sanctuary protocols only protect non-violent immigrants and do allow violent criminals to be deported.
“Across the country in cities large and small, police have enhanced their ability to fight crime by deciding that they will not conduct irrelevant interrogations about immigration status while conducting criminal investigations,” wrote Joanne Lin, a legislative counsel with the ACLU. “Far from being shields for criminality, [sanctuary] cities recognize that immigrant victims and witnesses will not report crime, and crimes will therefore go unsolved and unpunished if immigrants fear that local police are acting as immigration agents.”