February 5, 2017

Sina-cism: Sanctuary city debate a dangerous distraction

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Worcester City Hall

America cannot afford an impasse on immigration. President Obama failed for eight years to produce comprehensive immigration reform.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Among the least enlightening debates in recent Worcester history is that over the idea of a sanctuary city, a term with no legal force and little practical application.

The most recent standard-bearers in this debate are City Councilor-at-Large Michael Gaffney and Mayor Joseph Petty.

Gaffney pushed a resolution, defeated 9-2 by the City Council last Tuesday night, that would have made clear Worcester is not a sanctuary city. If it were seen as one, he argued, Worcester might lose federal funding.

Petty argued that Gaffney was stirring fear unnecessarily. As the mayor told the Telegram & Gazette: “I’m going to have everyone’s back. If we aren’t going to protect our immigrants, then you may as well take the Statue of Liberty, pack it up and send it back to France.”

Well, the city’s money is safe and France can cancel that incoming shipment, because neither man’s fears are likely to be realized.

Worcester takes no part in enforcing federal immigration law. Police don’t routinely ask about immigration status. And it would certainly be corrosive to the city’s neighborhoods and budget if cops were put on the trail of every suspected illegal alien.

At the same time, Worcester doesn’t obstruct federal immigration authorities carrying out their duties. Yet no administration, even Trump’s, has the resources or intention of reaching into places like Worcester except in unusual or critical circumstances.

A 2014 article in Mother Jones explains how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) decides who gets removed. In 2013, 59 percent of removals, about 217,000 people, had committed a crime. Of roughly 152,000 deportations that year involving people who had committed no crime beyond illegal entry, 84 percent were apprehended at the border.

ICE focuses on immediate threats, including unknown parties crossing our borders. Millions here illegally continue to live and work quietly in the heart of America, and are likely to continue to do so for years to come.

Gaffney’s concern about Worcester losing revenue was as misplaced as Petty’s would-be heroic stand against a rising tide of American neo-fascism.

As for the sanctuary city idea, there is some history there, beginning with the Old Testament:

“When you go across the Jordan into the land of Canaan, select for yourselves cities to serve as cities of asylum, where a homicide who has killed someone unintentionally may take refuge. These cities shall serve you as places of asylum from the avenger of blood, so that a homicide shall not be put to death unless he is first tried before the community.” (Numbers 35: 9-12)

Sanctuary had a place in medieval times, too. Elizabeth Woodville, queen consort to King Edward IV, twice sought sanctuary in religious institutions during England’s Wars of the Roses.

In the United States, the concept of sanctuary was revived in the 1980s to shelter those fleeing political violence in Central America.

Thirty and more years on, political refugees still exist, of course, including foreign nationals who have risked their lives for the U.S. military. Not all have received the asylum they need and deserve. That is a problem that Trump and Congress must address.

But the contemporary sanctuary city movement has little to do with those historical antecedents.

It is simply a phrase being hijacked by the political left to oppose any immigration move by the new administration or Republican-controlled Congress, and, among some, to push for open borders. The risk is that it may also provide cover for those who would seek to subvert U.S. law and establish criminal or terrorist networks here.

America cannot afford an impasse on immigration. President Obama failed for eight years to produce comprehensive immigration reform, and fell back on executive orders which courts have eviscerated. The Trump administration’s opening moves on immigration were blundering, but a more cogent and balanced policy is beginning to take shape.

Related Sina-cism: How Obama crossed the line on immigration

The sanctuary city debate is another distraction from the main question: Do Americans support legal immigration? Do they tolerate and respect the diversity that makes places such as Worcester so rich and livable?

I believe the answer is a resounding yes to both.

Let us put nonsensical debates aside, and focus on what unites us.

Let us fashion an immigration policy — through Congress, not executive orders — that is both compassionate for suffering peoples and cognizant of the world’s dangers, that is grounded in the rule of law, and that welcomes to our nation anyone, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, who respects our Constitution and values, and is able and willing to contribute to a freer and better America.

Chris Sinacola is a Worcester Sun columnist. His observations on politics, current events, history and more appear every Sunday.

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