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Sanctuary Communities And The Fallacy Of ‘Good Immigrants’ Vs. ‘Bad Immigrants’

There are four sanctuary states in the United States, and over 200 sanctuary cities and counties, as of March 20.

President Donald Trump’s administration has actively targeted sanctuary communities, and threatened to cut federal funding, but the administration’s pursuit of legal avenues in order to curb sanctuary cities has, so far, been fruitless.

A California judge on April 25 “issued a nationwide injunction…blocking enforcement of Trump’s executive order targeting cities and counties across the U.S. that have pledged to be a safe haven to the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.”

One motivating factor behind the nationwide campaign against sanctuary cities is the lack of compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This means that local authorities would not be helping federal officials enforce immigration law.

Declining to assist government migration enforcement in their demands to detain, track, or report undocumented immigrants, specifically those considered to be here illegally, who have had contact with local law enforcement, means that federal officials would have a harder time deporting undocumented immigrants.

In ‘Seeking Sanctuary’, a report from The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), the authors argue that cities and counties whose officials have proclaimed sanctuary, or established city-level strategies against immigration enforcement, can lawfully provide sanctuary for immigrants, and thereby discourage inordinate punishment. “Like local policies, it is entirely the state’s prerogative to direct the use of state resources and the priorities of state officers. It is not the business of states to regulate or enforce immigration law, which is the federal government’s responsibility.”

The ILRC references a framework that they call “The Spectrum of Sanctuary,” which describes phases of sanctuary, which display characteristics ranging from protection to inclusion, and what this spectrum means for immigrants.

In phase one, “stay and be safe,” sanctuary policies separate local policing from immigration enforcement, “thereby protecting immigrants from deportation while also strengthening public safety.”

Phase two, “survive and thrive,” focuses on asylum strategies that make the life of an undocumented person less burdensome, and endeavoring to give some level of fairness.

Examples of solutions and arrangements that make their lives easier include the incorporation of access to driver’s licenses and other means of proof of identity, tuition equity for students, and access to bilingual education.

The final phase is called “belong.” Sanctuary policies that assist immigrants in genuinely belonging to their communities are described as “those that foster the greatest inclusion, welcoming immigrants as full participants in their local communities and in broader American civic life.”

Examples the ILRC provides include cross-cultural exchanges, assistance for eligible immigrants to become naturalised citizens, and the formal recognition of immigrants’ contributions to their communities.

Eric Gardner, who works as a software developer for Getty Museum in Los Angeles, tells Shadowproof that after recently joining the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) he’s been involved in the chapter’s Sanctuary City Working Group (SCWG) and that, ultimately, they want all undocumented workers in the United States to be legalized.

Members of the SCWG argue that the Trump administration has shown an intent to use federal law enforcement “to impose white supremacist policies on the rest of the country, regardless of what anyone else thinks. ICE, FBI, DHS, and other federal agencies can still arbitrarily break up families, kidnap and deport people, and terrorize communities in every city, state, and county of the United States.”

According to SCWG, this immigration policy—with history that extends well beyond this administration—reveals that Trump and his supporters are inspired by fantasies of ethnic cleansing. “No immigrant in the U.S. is safe as long as Trump is in power.”

SCWG has been active in Los Angeles, including include pushing for “universal representation” in the newly-created L.A. Justice Fund, a $10-million fund created by L.A. city and county governments to provide legal aid to immigrants facing deportation proceedings. They’ve also led a successful teach-in at UCLA on the importance of sanctuary as a demand, and some members of the SCWG volunteered at local legal clinics to help undocumented immigrants.

A large part of  SCWG’s work includes fighting against “carve-outs,” or measures that include exclusionary clauses that deny right to those with criminal convictions.

“Locally, a lot of Democratic politicians are trying to create a distinction between “good immigrants” and “bad immigrants.” This is honestly no different from Trump’s talk of “bad hombres.”

The fact is, undocumented immigrants typically wind up living in communities that are over-policed by the state; people who are over-policed and pushed out of the mainstream economy are more likely to get caught up in the criminal justice system. We reject this attempt to divide up the immigrant population into “good immigrants” and “bad immigrants.”

Having a criminal record should not cause someone to lose the right to due process and basic protection under the law – especially when individuals have already served their sentences and are attempting to re-integrate into society.” Their demand for sanctuary is explicitly that they be sanctuaries for all, with no carve-outs, and with due process for everyone.

A pressing issue Gardner mentions is the reason that undocumented immigrants migrate, which, in many cases, is due to the impacts of destructive U.S. policies on their  home countries. “This includes both economic policies, like the dumping of U.S. government-subsidized agricultural goods in foreign markets in the name of “free trade,” but also military intervention.

For decades, the U.S. has backed brutal dictatorships and right-wing paramilitary forces to suppress popular uprisings across Latin America and the rest of the world, and many of the victims of these policies came here as refugees—with or without papers.

Garland emphasizes, “As socialists, we believe that workers in the U.S. and all around the world– documented and undocumented – are all struggling against the same enemy: U.S. capitalism
and imperialism. The fight for sanctuary has the potential to unite workers from all backgrounds, and can improve conditions for everyone.”

The Trump administration’s crusade against sanctuary cities and undocumented immigrants, which first began during the height of his campaign drive, will continue to face resistance. And not only from state and local officials but from community organizers, who have promised to challenge the administration, and other immigration authorities who are helping detain and deport undocumented peoples.

The Michigan-based organization, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), which advocates and mobilizes in solidarity with immigrant communities, and in defense of Affirmative Action, is one of many groups promising to keep up the pressure on local government officials to adopt resolutions in policies that that would prevent undocumented immigrants from facing prosecution under federal immigration laws.

While modern-day sanctuary cities are now gaining notoriety thanks to an administration that is seeking to detain and deport countless undocumented immigrants, similarly to those that came before it, the sanctuary movement itself started in the early 1980s. It was propelled in part by religious communities who took in refugees.

Groundswell, a platform started by the Auburn Theological Seminary, is part of a larger mobilization effort by interfaith organizations used to organize communities into defying the call for the detainment and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

“When there is oppression, God calls for someone to stand in the gap and do the moral, just thing. Sanctuary is emergency moral action — standing in the gap to protect the wrongfully oppressed.”

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Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at Roqchams.com.