Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Sanctuary cities should call Trump’s bluff and welcome migrants

By Beverly Crawford

The White House has now proposed—or threatened—to send migrants apprehended at the border to “sanctuary cities.” “Those Illegal Immigrants who can no longer be legally held … will be… given to Sanctuary Cities and States!” Trump tweeted. Sanctuary jurisdictions should call Trump’s bluff and welcome these migrants.

To be a “sanctuary” means not only to resist policies that would harm immigrants, but to embrace policies and practices that would assist immigrants. In the UK , the term “sanctuary city” refers to cities committed to welcoming refugees, asylum seekers and others who are seeking safety.

While Congress dithers endlessly over immigration reform, churches, NGOs, and local governments should follow the example of the anti-apartheid movement—a “grass-roots” movement to transform US foreign policy toward South Africa that began at the local level and spread until it transformed federal government policy. Sanctuary cities should follow this lead and establish a “grass roots immigration policy:” e.g. practices of protection, humane treatment, assistance, and integration of immigrants into local communities around the country. These practices can provide an alternative to the harsh practices of both previous administrations and those even more cruel and inhuman practices initiated by the Trump administration.

Sanctuary jurisdictions currently are those who have limited their cooperation with the federal government’s draconian efforts to find and deport undocumented immigrants. They cannot prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from entering their cities, counties, and states, but they are placing roadblocks to that entry intended to send a message: a protest against Trump’s immigration agenda and his idea of America that the agenda signifies.

They are thus less likely to turn over to ICE those who have committed minor offenses; they refuse to permit ICE agents into public spaces without a warrant; they resist asking for immigrant documentation. The Trump administration has long sought to punish sanctuary cities and states for their limited compliance with his attempt to rid the country of immigrants: in the 2016 presidential campaign, he promised to cut federal funding to these jurisdictions, but his executive order was blocked by the courts. Since then, he has expanded requirements for compliance with laws that require local jurisdictions to provide information about immigrants to the federal government. And some sanctuary cities have capitulated.

Trump’s threat to bus immigrants to these jurisdictions is intended to call the bluff of those Democratic leaders of sanctuary cities and states who, Trump predicts, will insist that they are open to immigrants but actually resist taking them in and will thus be forced to jump on his anti-immigration bandwagon. “The asylum laws are absolutely insane,” Trump told reporters. “They (the migrants) come up (to the United States). In many cases, they’re rough gang members, so we are looking at the possibility. … “We’ll bring them to sanctuary city areas and let [them] take care of it,…” By taking immigrants who can no longer be legally detained, [1] Sarah Hukabee Sanders added, sanctuary cities can help ease the burden of “towns right there on the border” who are swamped by an immigrant surge. “We’ll see if sanctuary cities “are ok with that same impact.”

Many of the Democratic leadership and leaders of sanctuary cities took the bait. They condemned the proposal, calling it a “scare tactic,” one of Trump’s “half-baked ideas,” a cynical ploy to treat immigrants as “pawns in a warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants.” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D) stated that “It’s an idea that’s so stupid and so silly no one expects it to be real. It just means that the president’s crazy.”

All of this may be true. But some local officials have courageously called Trump’s bluff. New Haven Mayor Toni Harp said, “For New Haven, we open our arms to those fleeing oppression, and should the President wish to send people here who want to be our neighbors and who want to build a life that contributes to our community, we welcome them with open arms.” Mayor Lovely Warren of Rochester, New York said that her city would be happy to take border crossers and illegal aliens off the hands of federal immigration officials:

“The City of Rochester is proud of its status as a Sanctuary City. As the home of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, we view our diversity as one of our greatest strengths, and believe immigrants have much to contribute to our community. And our City is committed to equity and treating all of our neighbors equally. If the federal government moves forward with its proposal to send immigrants seeking asylum to Sanctuary Cities, we will welcome them.”

Larger cities are jumping on board the welcome wagon. While Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called Trump’s latest salvo against immigrants an “abuse of power and public resources,” she also tweeted: “#Oakland welcomes all, no matter where you came from or how you got here.” Mayors of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago, Portland, Cambridge, and Middletown, Connecticut all sent messages of welcome.

The Meaning of Sanctuary: A Brief History

The practice of offering sanctuary to those who must flee because their lives and livelihoods are threatened reaches back to antiquity. In ancient Greece, all temples were considered sacred, inviolable spaces, under protection of the gods. They were therefore deemed places of asylum (asylia), within which anyone outside the boundaries and jurisdiction of his or her city—could find refuge from violence, death, torture, and abuse. These sacred spaces became places where diverse communities practiced empathy, engaged in moral discourse and shared ethical collective knowledge about the common humanity of asylum seekers.

This religious practice of providing refuge was long part of the Judeo-Christian tradition of making religious sites off-limits to government authorities and refugee protection at those sites a sacred duty. The Law of Moses in the Bible created a system of “sanctuary cities” where those who had committed involuntary manslaughter could find refuge from those who would kill them revenge.[2] In the early medieval period, from the 12th to the 16th centuries, Christian churches throughout Europe were widely believed to be holy ground, where no force or violence could be perpetrated.[3] The most sacred part of churches and temples are still called sanctuaries.

The practice of providing sanctuary to those fleeing bondage and violence spread into secular politics during the late medieval period in Europe. Kings welcomed the runaway serfs as refugees and provided them protection within “free cities.” They codified this practice in various edicts stating that if the runaways managed to live in the city a year and a day, they would be granted citizenship, which would gave them rights and the king’s protection.[4] In the early history of the United States, participation in the Underground Railroad for slaves fleeing bondage spread from Churches and Quaker Meetings into the broader society.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 had assumed that states would help the federal government apprehend runaway slaves, but a bill to require that cooperation ran afoul of states’ rights advocates.  Free slaves and their abolitionist allies offered their homes to runaway slaves, organized protective societies, and boldly resisted federal law enforcement. “When a federal marshal nabbed fugitive slaves, hundreds (even thousands) of protesters turned out to the courthouses where they were held. Whole sections of Milwaukee, Chicago, New York City and Boston became no-go zones for slavecatchers.”[5] They had, in effect, become sanctuary zones.

In November 2016, students around the country staged demonstrations, walk-outs, and sit-ins in an effort to push their schools to declare themselves a “sanctuary campus” from President-elect Donald Trump’s planned immigration policy of mass deportationsn November 2016, students around the country staged demonstrations, walk-outs, and sit-ins in an effort to push their schools to declare themselves a “sanctuary campus” from Trump’s planned immigration policy of mass deportations. UC Berkeley is a sanctuary campus.

Since the 1980s, communities in the United States and in Europe have created “sanctuary cities” or “cities of sanctuary” for refugees crossing national borders in defiance of growing immigration restrictions. In the early 1980s, governments of El Salvador and Guatamala, aided by the United States, went on mass killing sprees, murdering close to 300,000 peasants suspected of being communists as they sought land reform. The US government had refused to grant asylum to those fleeing the death squads, and faith based groups began to see it as their moral responsibility to provide them sanctuary in their churches and temples.

In 1985 San Francisco passed a “City of Refuge” resolution, followed by an ordinance prohibiting the use of city funds and resources to assist federal immigration enforcement. This became the defining characteristic of the sanctuary movement, In 2018 more than 560 cities, states and counties considered themselves sanctuaries for immigrants.[2] Over 31 Colleges and Universities have become “sanctuary campuses.” Across the country, Police chiefs and sheriffs became the bearers of the “sanctuary city” movement.

Sanctuary Jurisdictions are safe, prosperous, and can offer cost-effective services to immigrants

There are 80 such jurisdictions in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but their purpose in providing sanctuary is broader: they provide housing, education, and cultural integration – to all asylum seekers. Lisa Weissman-Ward, clinical supervising attorney and lecturer in law with the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School, believes that the term “sanctuary city” should refer to a jurisdiction’s integrationist policies—that is, policies that serve to integrate immigrants regardless of their status. Sanctuary cities offer a rich environment for such integration.

According to a 2017 study by the Center for American Progress, sanctuary counties have less crime, a higher median household income, a lower poverty rate, lower levels of dependence on public assistance, and a lower unemployment rate than nonsanctuary counties. Professor David Card’s 1990 study of the Mariel boatlift in 1980, a similar situation which brought a surge of 125,000 Cuban immigrants to the U.S., showed no negative impact on the local labor market.[6] And community-based case management programs for immigrants prove to be more cost-effective than detention.[7] Trump’s proposal therefore offers a perfect opportunity to broaden our definition and offer real sanctuary to immigrants.

It only takes a village: sanctuary as the first step toward a grass roots immigration/integration policy

The anti-apartheid movement in the second half of the 20th century provides an excellent example of how citizens, local organizations, and local governments can pursue a grass-roots effort in their own communities to effect policy change at the highest levels. Recall that this movement began in the 1960s on local college campuses with picketing and protests against staunch US support of the racist South African regime. By the 1970s, anti-apartheid student groups were pressuring universities to divest stocks held in companies doing business with South Africa. As they became successful, the divestment movement spread, and by the 1980s, public pension funds were selling off their South African assets. Divestment movements gained ground across the globe, and by 1989, the U.S. Congress passed a series of economic sanctions against the South African government, which ultimately helped to bring down the regime.

Similarly, communities can pursue the humane immigration and integration policies on a local level—at the grass roots—that they want the federal government to enact. As in antiquity, such policies can begin with religious groups: churches, temples, sanghas, and mosques. During the European refugee crisis of 2015, Pope Francis declared: “May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family”[8] Congregations in the US can also heed his call. Pearl Alice Marsh, who served as a Senior Professional Staff member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has written that it is possible to organize a network of local churches, NGOs, and governments to receive and care for immigrants that Trump might send from the border. She also suggests that “Go Fund Me” campaigns can be organized locally to provide funds to these networks. Social service agencies could set up an emergency inter-agency communications network to link immigrants and receiving communities and establish logistics system “for safe and non-traumatic movement and resettlement.” She further suggests that state and local volunteers can be recruited and mobilized to help immigrants transition into safe havens.

Citizens have become increasingly appalled at the Administration’s unjust immigration policies, cruel and inhumane treatment of immigrants, separation of immigrant children from their parents, indefinite imprisonment of those seeking asylum, and scornful, mocking dismissal of asylum claims. There is no better time than now for individuals and communities to act to oppose the inhumanity of current immigration policies and to join together to demonstrate what a just, compassionate, and humane immigration policy can be.

[1] Trump and Sanders are probably referring to the Flores settlement, a 1997 agreement stemming from the Supreme Court case Flores v. Reno, which set the nation’s rules for the treatment of immigrant minors in federal custody and determined that they must be released after 20 days.

[2] Jonathan Burnside, God, Justice and Society (Oxford, 2011) pp. 265-270. Joshua 20: 1-6. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Say to the people of Israel, Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there. They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood. He shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and explain his case to the elders of that city. Then they shall take him into the city and give him a place, and he shall remain with them.

[3] L Rabben, Give Refuge to the Stranger (Left Coast, 2011), ch 3

[4] See Henri Pirenne, Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade, Princeton University Press, 1925, 1969. See also Stephen Alsford, “Urban Safe Havens for the Unfree in Medieval England: A Reconsideration,” Slavery and Abolition Vol. 32/3, 2011 pp. 363-375, and Gillian Weiss, “Infidels at the Oar: A Mediterranean Exception to France’s Free Soil Principle,” Slavery and Abolition Vol. 32/3, 2011, pp. 397-412.

[5] Quoted in https://tropicsofmeta.com/2017/02/02/a-brief-history-of-sanctuary-cities/ For the fuller argument summarized here see: H. Robert Baker The Rescue of Joshua Glover: A Fugitive Slave, the Constitution, and the Coming of the Civil War (Ohio University Press, 2007) and Prigg v. Pennsylvania: Slavery, the Supreme Court, and the Ambivalent Constitution (University Press of Kansas, 2012)

[6] “The Impact of the Mariel Boatlift on the Miami Labor Market” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 43, No. 2. (Jan., 1990), pp. 245-257

[7] Ophelia Field “Alternatives to Detention of Asylum Seekers and Refugees,” Report for the Division of International Protection Services, UNHCR, 2006 https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4472e8b84.pdf

[8] Pope Francis, Vatican Radio, September 6, 2015.