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Posts Tagged ‘Sanctuary’

What Makes Communities Safe? Debunking the Myth of “Sanctuary Cities”

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2009 at 5:23 pm

In my post yesterday, I discussed the 287(g) program, an agreement between state/local law enforcement agencies and ICE that allows deputized police officers to enforce immigration law.

While I talked about the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security hearing in which the GAO submitted testimony regarding the lack of oversight of the 287(g) program and two law enforcement officers submitted contrasting views of the program, today I wanted to follow up on an issue that is frequently brought up when I talk about 287(g) programs: so-called “sanctuary cities.”

A “sanctuary city” is a city that follows strict community policing policies, or perhaps even passed a state or local “separation” ordinance, ensuring that police officers investigate a crime regardless of a person’s immigration status. In reverse, such “separation” practices ensure that immigrants feel comfortable reporting crimes to the police without fear of deportation.

The logic behind such ordinances is that immigration law is extremely complex, and as I said yesterday, not until 1996 were there even statutes allowing federal immigration agencies to deputize immigration enforcement to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Most immigration violations (all of which are federal) are civil, not criminal, offenses. This means, that to charge someone with an immigration offense, the officer actually has to see the person commit the civil offense–much like a speeding ticket in which the officer must catch you speeding.

While legally this is complicated by presence in the United States being a “positive right,” the point of a “sanctuary city” or a separation ordinance is to ensure that local law enforcement’s energy is focused on keeping communities safe and NOT on checking peoples’ status.

Now, I want to make clear that state and local police officers have ALWAYS had the authority to arrest someone suspected of criminal activity–regardless of their immigration status–and report that person to ICE. It’s only that programs like 287(g) go further by allowing/asking law enforcement to go after what one colleague of mine describes as “windex-wielding hotel maids”–i.e. not exactly the “criminal” that makes our streets unsafe.

In turn, amounting evidence shows that law enforcement officers in non-sanctuary cities spend more time (and money) looking into immigration status than carrying out the warrants of arrest for people who have truly made our communities unsafe.

“Sanctuary cities,” however, have received a lot of negative attention from anti-immigrant advocates. Some members of Congress have even proposed cutting off funds for cities which engage in sanctuary or separation practices. They argue that these cities provide “sanctuary” for foreign-born criminals.

As I pointed out above though, this is a myth that is absolutely not true.

For more information on the “myth” of sanctuary cities, check out Immigration Impact’s new report “Debunking the Myth of ‘Sanctuary Cities: Community Policing Policies Protect American Communities.