My community is embroiled in a debate over whether to declare ourselves a “sanctuary city.” There’s widespread misunderstanding about this term. It means that local police will not arrest or investigate someone for no other reason than the suspicion that they’re breaking immigration laws. ICE can still operate in sanctuary cities. Persons arrested for other crimes can still be investigated for immigration violations and reported to ICE. The difference between sanctuary cities and other cities is that, in sanctuary cities, local police do not do the job of ICE. They serve the community and defend them against property and personal crimes irrespective of immigration status. Both citizens and non-citizens are safer in sanctuary cities because every minute police spend checking residents’ papers is a minute they don’t spend making the community safe. If deportations are important to the nation, they can pay for the enforcement, but the police in my community have enough to do.
The question of sanctuary cities also lays bare a truth about American politics. The “state’s rights” arguments made famous by Barry Goldwater and touted by Republicans since that time are nothing but a guise for racism. When the question is school integration or voting rights, it doesn’t take two sentences for Republicans to retreat to Constitutional assurances of the primacy of States. Local solutions, they tell us, are the thing that makes this country great. The citizens of South Carolina and Arkansas can and should (and must!) be entrusted with the protection of the rights of minorities in their own state. Federal interference is unconstitutional.
But on the question of sanctuary cities, Federal agencies like ICE are, apparently, within their rights to commandeer local and state police to conduct their business. In this case, States and municipalities, it seems, are incapable of making decisions about protecting minorities against unlawful search. Why the sudden about face by Republicans? Where are the cries for local solutions and the fears of federal tyranny?
The difference, of course, is the skin color of the persons being oppressed. It’s OK to use federal power to terrorize Hispanic communities. They’re not Republicans anyway.