Sanctuary Cities

Rochester, NY (where I live) is a Sanctuary city. The libertarian in me loves that sanctuary cities like Rochester are willing to defy the federal government for an unjust law. An updated Sanctuary City resolution passed on February 9th, 2017 created more concrete restrictions on using city resources to enforce immigration law:

the resolution limits collection of immigration-related information, seeks to ensure “nondiscriminatory access” to benefits and services, and prohibits city participation in any program that requires or creates a registry based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender or sexual orientation.

It states that police “shall not engage in certain activities solely for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws.” And it prohibits police from asking about immigration status “unless necessary to investigate criminal activity by that individual” or otherwise required by law, going on to prohibit officers from stopping, questioning or arresting anyone based on their actual or suspected immigration status.

Via Democrat & Chronicle

Edit: This resolution only passed committee. The full city council vote takes place on February 21st and is expected to pass. 

Sounds like a good thing to me.

The issue came up again when Donald Trump threatened to withhold funding from cities that refused to carry out his immigration order.Luckily, Rochester isn’t so dependent on federal funding that if the Trump administration acted on his executive order, the loss of funds wouldn’t be catastrophic. According to the Democrat & Chronicle:  “Rochester will receive at least $5.6 million in federal funding this fiscal year — no small amount, but just 1 percent of the city budget.” We can compare that to Miami, FL where they caved to Trump right away.

This should be a lesson to Democrats and Republicans about the dangers of becoming too dependent on federal funding, the wisdom of building budgets that are sustainable on local tax bases, and the virtues of the 10th Amendment, but I doubt it.

Being a sanctuary city doesn’t mean that the city is actively protecting undocumented immigrants.  Cities just may not inquire about an individual’s immigration status when they come into contact with police, don’t use city resources to help the federal immigration authorities, and don’t honor ICE detainer requests. The feds can’t compel the city to use its police to enforce immigration law, it can only threaten to withhold (some) funds. It’s more carrot than stick, but nonetheless a powerful tool that forces local and state governments to comply with federal mandates. Again, it’s a great argument for why cities should be wary of becoming too dependent on federal funds.

Sanctuary cities also work to create safer communities. The argument that undocumented immigrants should be rooted out and deported because they’re more prone to crime is a myth.

Law enforcement policy designed on that myth is counterproductive. If you have a population of undocumented immigrants, police want to build trust among those immigrants. They want everyone in neighborhoods to cooperate with police when serious crimes occur and not be afraid to give valuable information out of fear that they’ll be deported. By turning undocumented immigrants who have broken no other laws into criminals, you drive them into the shadows.

Overall, I’d conclude that the United States would be more prosperous and safe by simplifying the byzantine immigration system. Immigration is good for our country. Congress should make the process of coming into the United States much easier, give amnesty to those came here illegally but committed no violent crimes, and work to address lingering concerns about immigration and the welfare state.

These immigrants will be more likely to work with police, more likely to pay taxes, and more likely to be part of successful communities. Most of the problems with illegal immigration are rooted in bad policy, not bad people.

Until we change our laws, sanctuary cities are a good way to reduce the harm caused by these policies.

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Kevin Wilson
Libertarian activist-professional fundraiser-hop-head.
Vice chair of the Greater Rochester Libertarian Party and at-large member of the Libertarian Party of New York State Committee.
Opinions are my own and not necessarily the opinions of the LPNY or my employers.

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