Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sanctuary cities: controversial since the 1980s

            Sanctuary city policies in the U.S. have a storied history that dates back to the 1980s, when American churches pioneered a sanctuary movement. Churches that participated in that movement hoped to offer sanctuary to Central American immigrants who were fleeing civil war in their home countries and entering the U.S. illegally.  Sanctuary cities emerged in cities where these churches were active, and roughly thirty sanctuary cities exist in the U.S. today. According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, those cities are:

Anchorage, AK, Fairbanks, AK, Chandler, AZ, Fresno, CA, Los Angeles, CA, San Diego, CA, San Francisco, CA, Sonoma County, CA, Evanston, IL, Cicero, IL, Cambridge, MA, Orleans, MA, Portland, ME, Baltimore, MD, Takoma Park, MD, Ann Arbor, MI, Detroit, MI, Minneapolis, MN, Durham, NC, Albuquerque, NM, Aztec, NM, Rio Arriba, County, NM, Sante Fe, NM, New York, NY, Ashland, OR, Gaston, OR, Marion County, OR, Austin, TX, Houston, TX, Katy, TX, Seattle, WA, and Madison, WI.

Though slightly outdated, the below map from the National Immigration 
Law Center depicts most of the U.S. sanctuary cities. 

            Sanctuary city proponents claim that enforcing immigration laws is a responsibility that the federal government – not local or state governments – should bear. Ironically, the federal government has sent mixed messages on illegal immigration and sanctuary cities since those issues first rose to national prominence. On one hand, sanctuary cities’ ability to aid immigrants was strengthened in 1982 in Plyler vs. Doe. The Supreme Court used that case to declare that children born to illegal immigrants have a constitutional right to access public education.
On the other hand, the federal government has historically argued that sanctuary city policies are at odds with national security policies. In 2007, the Washington Times reported that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said, “his agency will not tolerate interference by so-called “sanctuary cities” when it comes to hiring illegal aliens.” At the time, Chertoff was defending his agency’s enforcement of a Basic Pilot Program that required employers to verify new employees’ legal status before hiring them.  Furthermore, the U.S. House of Representatives has debated several bills over the past decade that have threatened to deny federal funding to cities with sanctuary city policies.
In the Texas legislature, the state's main sanctuary city bill (HB 12) remains before the State Affairs committee. Of all the legislation declared to be emergency issues by Governor Perry, the sanctuary city bill is the only emergency issue that has not yet made it to the House floor. With only six weeks left in the regular legislative session, time is running short. See below for a sample of testimony before the House State Affairs Committee.

By Kimberly Dena

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