Recently, the City of Malibu in a 3-to-2 vote decided to become a “Sanctuary City,” joining 300 other states, counties and cities across the country. The term “sanctuary city” has become kind of a litmus test about how you feel about immigration, usually Mexican immigration, and typically undocumented Mexican immigration into the USA.
Within the last few days, a group of people in Malibu began circulating a petition online to gather support to try and get the city council to repeal its recent decision declaring Malibu a sanctuary city.
As always in this kind of a political battle, there is both a factual version of what’s going on with immigration and then there is the perception of what people believe about what’s going on. In politics, perception is frequently more important than facts, but as a starting point we should at least try and establish what we know about immigration in the USA and here in California.
A number of very respectable research companies like the Pew Research Center and numerous think tanks have done research on immigration and we have a substantial amount of data.
We know a number of things:
•Currently, there are about 11.1 million undocumented people here in the USA, and that number has declined somewhat in recent years.
•About half of those are Mexican, but that percentage has been on the decline since 2009.
•In fact, since 2009 more undocumented Mexicans have left the USA than have come into the country.
•Half of the other undocumented people are a mix of everyone from every country.
•About two-thirds of the undocumented adults (about 7 million-plus) living in the country have been here for at least 10 years.
•A much smaller percentage nationwide (about 14 percent) have lived here less than five years, and for the Mexicans, that drops to seven percent here less than five years
• The median number of years that an undocumented person has lived here is 13.6 years, meaning at least half have been in the country longer than that. It also means many have children or spouses born here who are American citizens by birth, so many Mexican families are a mix of documented and undocumented.
•Most didn’t come in by walking across the border, but rather came in as tourists, liked what America offered, wanted a better life and decided to stay.
•Many wanted to become citizens or at least permanent residents but the process is long, expensive, confusing and for many near impossible. That is not accidental. There are many in this county and in congress who do not want them to become legal in any way.
So why, at a time when most immigrants — whether documented or undocumented — are settling in, in a pattern that’s very similar to what happened with immigrants for the last 150 years, is this suddenly a hot button political issue? I think there are several reasons: First and probably foremost, many Americans have not shared in the growing wealth and success of America. They’ve seen their good jobs disappear, and in many places their towns are dying. Their perceptions are real and both parties have ignored them. Many voted for Obama in hopes of change and for them it hasn’t happened, so many figured, “What the heck, why not give Trump a chance?” They have also been encouraged to scapegoat the undocumented as the cause of their lack of jobs, but that is sheer fantasy. Fortune Magazine recently ran an article based upon academic research and it concluded that 88 percent of the lost manufacturing jobs were caused by robots and other technological factors. Only 12 percent of the job loss comes from jobs being sent overseas. Simply put, we just don’t need as many well-paid factory workers to produce the goods we once produced. In fact, manufacturing in the USA has actually been growing; between 2006 and 2013 it grew roughly 17.6 percent — about 2.2 percent per year during that period — but at the same time the jobs decreased.
So what does all of this have to do with sanctuary cities? I believe we became a sanctuary city for the very reason that many others did: Because our federal government’s changed immigration enforcement policies, which seemed cynically calculated to scapegoat a particular ethnic group, the Mexicans. The idea of the government systematically trying to round up a particular portion of the population seems to many of us the very antithesis of what America is and should be. To see ICE agents going into government buildings, courthouses, police stations, schools, churches, welfare offices, places of employment, is the hallmark of a police state, everything that America is not.
When you begin to read about “illegal dangerous criminal aliens,” you see that to those with that mindset, what they are really saying is those people are not nice people like us, and therefore should be collected and disposed of. There is a long bloody history of that kind of scapegoating all over the world and many of us do not want to see it take root in America.
To those who say that after all these people are lawbreakers, I would answer they have tried in a bipartisan way on numerous occasions to change the law during both the Clinton and Bush administrations and were blocked in the senate, in no small measure by our current Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III, who apparently is not looking for any kind of solution other than a punitive one.
There are considerable dangers to the federal government’s new enforcement policy. For one thing, Trump may have talked about “bad hombres,” but the reality of enforcement is they are just going to grab the ones that are easiest to catch. This kind of a policy drives everything underground; people hesitate to report crime or be a witness or apply for government programs for the needy. They’re afraid to take their children to schools or to a doctor or to a hospital. Most sheriff’s stations and police departments don’t want to be enforcing federal immigration law. It’s expensive, time consuming and drives a wedge between law enforcement and the communities they serve. They are also justifiably nervous that the feds might try to cut federal dollars to the states to assist law enforcement. It’s ironic that those who cried the loudest about states’ rights, and state sovereignty, in the old days when it was about civil rights are now totally fine using maximum federal power to accomplish their own ends and the hell with states’ rights.
I believe that we, as a country, a state, a county and a city have to stand up to this attempt to abuse federal power and to do any less would be an abrogation of our duty as citizens of the United States and California and Malibu. We should remain a sanctuary city and it’s time for us to be courageous and to stand up and be counted.