The Problem with Sanctuary Cities and the Bigger Problem of GOP's Racist Overreach

This may come as a shock to some, but I am not a fan of all aspects of "sanctuary" cities.

What I mean by that is that I don't think any state or city should be able to ignore requests from federal law enforcement about holding a criminal or at least being informed when a criminal is about to be released from jail. Whether that is because the FBI wants to keep tabs on a violent gun nut's whereabouts after they are released from jail or because Homeland Security has made deporting undocumented immigrants convicted for a crime is irrelevant.

Nobody denies that immigration law is under federal jurisdiction, and states and cities should not simply be able to ignore federal law with impunity. We don't like it when a county clerk refuses to follow federal one law, and we shouldn't condone it when localities pass ordinances allowing themselves to ignore another.

There is, however, no federal law mandating that local law enforcement and district attorneys collect and convey to DHS the immigration status of every person they detain, prosecute or jail. That would make community policing in an arduous task, a space where sanctuary cities make a strong argument. The constitutional case for it may also be dubious since the mandate of such a federal law would clearly interfere with something that is state jurisdiction, and that is local law enforcement.

It is this balance that I feel both conservatives and liberals miss in the debate about sanctuary cities. Conservatives feel threatened by immigrants, and as a knee-jerk reaction support anything that would make immigrants' lives miserable, regardless of how many innocent, well-meaning immigrant families it hurts. And some liberals feel that federal immigration laws and their enforcement is unjust, and they take it upon themselves to protect what they see as vulnerable populations, and almost as a protest statement, feel like it should be okay to deny federal requests for mere information on the release of a convicted criminal.

That is the backdrop of the current legislative actions on sanctuary cities sparked by the murder of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle by a convicted criminal in San Francisco. Had San Francisco authorities simply complied with DHS requests to detain the inmate after he was released from county jail and pending deportation proceedings, and Steinle would probably still be alive.

But San Francisco law enforcement had no choice. Despite city leaders' claims that this isn't what their sanctuary city policy was meant to do, and despite my belief in their sincerity, San Francisco's sanctuary city law unequivocally forbids SF law enforcement from cooperating with any federal "investigation, detention, or arrest procedures, ... relating to alleged violations of the civil provisions of the federal immigration law." Keep in mind that merely being in this country without documentation is not a crime; it's a civil violation.

That part of San Francisco's sanctuary law is an overreach, and it needs fixing.

But to be fair to the center of Bay Area culture as a Bay Area resident, that is the only part of the sanctuary law that needs fixing - the overreach. They need to be made to comply with federal requests to detain convicted violent criminals for deportation hearings, or to hand those criminals to federal custody. That's it. Cities and locales do not need to be forced collect information about people's immigration status.

And yet, that's exactly what the Republican "fix" to this problem would do. The GOP bill that was just defeated in the Senate, rather than narrowly fix a problem of localities overreaching or writing their policies too broadly, responded with a mega-overreach of its own. In essence, their legislation - both the House and Senate versions - would force every sheriff in America to become Joe Arpaio.

The GOP's solution would make it illegal for states and localities to prevent its law enforcement from actively seeking and gathering information about immigration status of people in their communities and allow for any given law enforcement officer to flaunt any such state or local policies even if they were in place. If states don't comply, they get their law enforcement grants cut off.

Despite the focus on the San Francisco incident being one of non-compliance to specific federal requests relating to convicted violent criminals, the Republican legislation focuses instead on forcing state and local agencies to gather immigration status information. Not only is that not the solution to the very targeted problem, the GOP's approach is a solution in search of a problem.

No, let me correct that. Their approach is racism masquerading as a solution in search of a problem.

There's also the little matter of the weapons. If guns weren't so accessible, perhaps criminals - citizens and non-citizens - would be less able to shoot random passers-by.

I don't count on the current Republican party to actually reverse course and target any actual problem with any of their so-called solutions. Everything they do is meant to rile up an increasingly shrinking and louder racist, xenophobic, mysogynist, homophobic base.

That leaves the sanctuary cities themselves. They realize the problem is targeted. San Francisco is already debating altering their law to make it clear that it isn't to protect violent criminals from deportation. I hope other cities follow.

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