From the Left: Sanctuary Cities and the debate over immigration

Lance Simmens

From the Left: Sanctuary Cities and the debate over immigration

By Lance Simmens

America is a nation of immigrants. What distinguishes us from our adversaries is our acceptance, oftentimes quite contentious but acceptance nevertheless, of large populations from all corners of the world. A major difference between our borders and that of the Soviet Union was that ours was largely to control those wishing to come in while the Berlin Wall was specifically designed to prevent citizens from getting out.

Americans have been imbued with the certitude that our nation is the land of the free with unbounded opportunity for all those who wish to apply themselves. The abundant diversity of our population has contributed to the notion that we are that shining city on the hill, Lady Liberty welcoming those to our shores, building off the intellect of citizens from all parts of the globe.

American history is replete with stories of resistance to immigrants, yet through the centuries, there is little doubt that we as a country have grown to be the leading democratic experiment in the world largely because of our ultimate acceptance of the diversity that graces our shores. We have witnessed large swaths of immigrants during our growth, the Chinese who built the transcontinental railroad from west to east and the Irish who built from east to west, only to be joined at Promontory Summit in 1869, a golden spike driven to unite the nation.

Immigrants start businesses. Immigrant-owned businesses create jobs for American workers. Immigrants are also more likely to create their own jobs. Immigrants develop cutting-edge technologies and companies. Immigrants are our engineers, scientists, and innovators. Immigration boosts earnings for American workers. Immigrants boost demand for local consumer goods.

Yet we now find ourselves in a period where anti-immigration policies and politics have wreaked havoc on a divisive electorate and has led to the development of so-called “sanctuary communities,” a political term, not a legal one. According to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a sanctuary city is described as “a community with a policy, written or unwritten, that discourages local law enforcement from reporting the immigration status of individuals unless it involves investigation of a serious crime.” California has joined 10 other states declaring itself a sanctuary community while Texas has banned sanctuary cities outright.

A closer relationship between immigrant communities and local law enforcement can have positive impacts upon the municipality or state and sanctuary cities; for instance:

  • Sanctuary cities have lower than average crime rates
  • Household incomes are higher in sanctuary cities
  • The poverty rate in sanctuary cities is lower on average than cities without these policies

The melting pot theory, tracing back to the 1780s, is often used in the United States to reflect a fusion of nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities. It is a symbol of our nation’s commitment to an accepting society willing to entertain differences and celebrate diversity. It is what distinguishes us from closed societies, and renders us unique and essential in a world that is constantly shrinking due to technological advances. Yet we find ourselves in an uncomfortable position, currently when it comes to policies regarding a rush of immigrants at our borders.

Most of us, myself included, are unfamiliar with the processes of immigration. Those wishing to enter our country are essentially listed in three categories: refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. According to Amnesty International, “a refugee is a person who has fled their own country because they are at risk of serious human rights violations and persecution there.” An asylum seeker is “a person who has left their country and is seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country, but who hasn’t yet been legally recognized as a refugee and is waiting to receive a decision on their asylum claim.” While there is no internationally accepted legal definition of a migrant, it is generally accepted to refer to “people staying outside their country of origin, who are not asylum-seekers or refugees. Some migrants leave their country because they want to work, study or join family … others feel they must leave because of poverty, political unrest, gang violence, natural disasters or other serious circumstances that exist there.”

As serious as the immigration problem is, it is absolutely atrocious that some have decided to play politics with people’s lives, particularly people who risk everything to make a better life for their families. The recent actions driven by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to transport immigrants from their states to sanctuary localities is a bluntly partisan political stunt that borders on illegality at best and inhumanity at worst. 

Similar stunts have recently included delivering more than 100 migrants to the Washington, D.C., home of Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as other Democrat-led cities such as New York and Chicago. 

Political theatrics and sophomoric histrionics belittle us all. Our nation is and should be a sanctuary for all those escaping oppression.