Opinion

The Divide: What is sanctuary, and what are sanctuary cities?

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The Divide: What is sanctuary, and what are sanctuary cities?

The term “sanctuary city” has taken on a life of its own since last November’s presidential election. There is a major divide between those people who see ‘sanctuary cities’ as evil entities, and those who view a ‘sanctuary city’ as a place for all people to feel safe and protected.

On the “evil” side are officials like United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has threatened to withhold federal funds for so-called “sanctuary cities.” And Bristol County, Mass., Sheriff Tom Hodgson who said that “officials who support ‘sanctuary city’ pledges should be arrested” (Boston Globe, March 2017). Those on the other side of the divide include Mayors like Joe Curtatone of Somerville, Mass., Stephanie Miner of Syracuse, and Lovely Warren of Rochester. These mayors, and many others throughout New York state and the country believe that all people should be treated with dignity and respect and afforded the protections granted in our Constitution.

So, what exactly is the definition of ‘sanctuary city’? Is it the evil local government that will not do the federal government’s bidding and enforce immigration laws? Or is it the municipality which just wants to make all residents feel safe and protected? And/or the municipality that doesn’t have the funds to pay for the cost of doing a function that under U.S. law is the function of federal law enforcement agencies?

According to a memorandum (Jan. 13, 2017) by Hughes-Socol-Piers-Resnick-Dym, Ltd., that was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the term ‘sanctuary city’ is not defined by federal law. The memorandum summarizes that the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government (at least under current interpretations) from directing local or state governments from taking part in immigrant enforcement. The Tenth Amendment and Spending Clause would also protect localities and states from the cutting off of federal funds for not taking part in “immigration enforcement schemes.”

While many local and state governments have officially declared themselves “sanctuaries,” many other municipalities have implemented guidelines that have the same effect as a designated “sanctuary city” without using that term. I attended a conference last month and one of the workshops was on “sanctuary city” legislation. A couple of the elected officials who were in the workshop spoke of how their legislative bodies adopted guidelines for their law enforcement agencies to operate under, but without using the words “sanctuary city.” These officials said that after they removed “sanctuary” from the proposed resolutions, they had no trouble passing them in their respective legislatures (one was a city, the other a county).

Thus, when did “sanctuary” become a bad word? A word to be avoided?

Do you remember when ‘sanctuary’ meant that religious institutions offered a safe haven for those who were being harassed or abused and had no other place to turn to for protection from the abuser? So, what changed to turn this simple word into a hot-button issue? To make the word so evil that the Attorney General of the United States threatens local and state governments who designate themselves as ‘sanctuaries’ with financial punishment? To encourage some law enforcement agents to threaten to arrest elected officials who support being a “sanctuary city?” Or, to make the word “sanctuary” so untenable that elective legislative bodies are fearful of using the word in resolutions? Or, to even threaten religious institutions with the loss of their property if they act as a ‘sanctuary’ for those people fearing the federal government will take them away from their families?

Why have some people attacked local and state governments for stating that they are sanctuary cities? Is it the hateful rhetoric coming out of Washington, and the current ruling regime, that has made the use of the word “sanctuary” verboten? Is it the misinformation and misstatement of federal law that has led to these threats of retaliation by the federal government? Or, is it that many people do not know that the federal government cannot unilaterally cut-off federal funds to localities if they declare themselves “sanctuary cities?”

Local law enforcement agencies are not required to act as immigration policing agents. This prohibition has been upheld in the federal courts many times. In Arizona v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified that local law enforcement agents do not have the authority to stop or detain people suspected of violating civil immigration law. Also, a number of courts have found that detentions pursuant to ‘detainers’ violate the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (see Hughes, etc. memorandum).

Furthermore, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in his report Guidance Concerning Local Authority Participation In Immigration Enforcement and Model Sanctuary Provisions, explains that in Arizona v. United States, undocumented aliens are afforded certain rights and that even the mere fact that an individual is unlawfully in the United States, is not a criminal offense. Even the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has guidelines that must be met before a local law enforcement agency can function as an immigration law enforcement authority. Known as the 287(g) program, ICE requires that a Memorandum of Agreement with the local municipality be enacted before the local police or sheriffs can be “cross-designated” officers. ICE also requires that these “cross-designated” officers undergo a four-week basic training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center ICE Academy (ICEA) in Charleston, SC before they can act as immigration officers.

So, again, with threatening financial hardship on local governments if they declare themselves ‘sanctuary cities’, it looks like the administration in Washington, as it did with the Executive Orders barring Muslims from entering the country, is trying circumvent the Constitution to put in place illegal policies. This bullying by the feds has to stop, after all, we are still a country of laws and it is hypocritical for the regime to talk about ‘illegals’ when the feds themselves are acting illegally.

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