The simple mention of the term “sanctuary city” is bound to spur an immediate and heated political debate. Those on the political right see the idea of allowing an undocumented individual to live freely in the United States as a perversion of justice. Contrarily, those on the left place significant importance on the idea of a safety harbor for the troubled, endangered and economically disadvantaged. They see their political opponent’s view as heartless and in conflict against America’s founding principles. After all, the sentiment that the United States is a nation of immigrants is one that transcends the political spectrum.
When an undocumented individual is taken into custody, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will issue a request– not a demand, but a request– that state law enforcement keeps the individual in custody for an extra couple of days so that they may be transferred into the custody of federal immigration officials and enter into deportation proceedings.
The politics of it all becomes contentious when localities– cities, states and counties– refuse to honor this detainer request, and the individual is let go without further trouble. This is the essence of sanctuary cities.
It has much more to do with the prickly relationship between the federal government and local authorities than anything else. As it is widespread knowledge in American law, states and localities cannot usually be coerced into the bidding of the federal government. There are only very narrow exceptions.
I myself am from another country, and while I am fortunate to be from a westernized, modern and wealthy country, I see firsthand the difficulty of becoming a citizen in the country that I lived in for the past five years. Further, I sympathize with people who are undocumented because it is quite frankly a terribly arduous situation to be in– sleeping with one eye open knowing that you could be taken into custody and eventually be deported. Many immigrants live in fear of being returned to a country that has given them a life of poverty, corruption, violence and unequal opportunity.
Sanctuary cities are not the lawless circuses that the Trump administration declares them to be, and cities which take a hardline stance on immigration are not necessarily any safer.
What we need first and foremost is immigration reform– changes that will be a permanent fix to a complicated problem. We need to make it significantly easier for foreign nationals to become American citizens. We need to end this trend of hardline immigration policies.
Ideas such as further restricting immigration, curbing the rights of non-citizens and building the infamous border wall do not do anything to solve America’s core problems. Instead, they are ideas which continue the cycle of xenophobia.
Immigration is a human problem– not a political one, not a racial one and not an ethnic one.
This is not a call for a free-for-all, open border or anything of the sort. It is, however, a call for everyone to notice the troubled nature of those who are less fortunate than us, those who have taken desperate measures to start a better life.
Sanctuary cities are not the final solution to a problem of such gravity. As mentioned, immigration is a complicated issue. It cannot and should not be solved on partisan grounds. Simply declaring oneself either for or against immigration does little more than exacerbate the issue and creates even more political divides than we already have.
Sanctuary cities are a stepping stone toward the immigration reform we so desperately need. They may not be a perfect solution, but they at least provide some protection for some of America’s most vulnerable residents.
Daniel Schwartz is a masters student studying philosophy.