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Sanctuary Cities and Community Trust

Sanctuary Cities and Community Trust

A string of recent events, from growing numbers of Central American children migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to the death of Kathryne Steinle in San Francisco in July and rising anti-immigrant rhetoric in the presidential campaign, has brought public and congressional attention to the more than 200 state and municipal governments across the country that have deliberately chosen not to enforce certain components of federal immigration law.

The exact methods that these jurisdictions, known colloquially as sanctuary cities, use to avoid enforcement of federal law can vary greatly. Often, cities explicitly refuse to detain suspected undocumented immigrants on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), even if ICE issues a detention request. In San Francisco, a 1989 ordinance prohibits city employees from assisting federal immigration authorities unless compelled to do so the courts or the state. In other cases, cities and states might have no sanctuary policies on the books, but simply refuse to acknowledge requests for detention.

Opponents of sanctuary cities argue that these laws obstruct efforts by federal immigration authorities to track down potentially dangerous individuals who repeatedly attempt to enter the United States illegally. They point to Steinle’s murder, allegedly at the hands of a man who had previously been deported six times and who San Francisco police refused to turn over to ICE, as proof that sanctuary city policies undermine local law enforcement efforts.

Proponents of sanctuary policies, on the other hand, argue that these policies actually promote effective law enforcement and policing in areas with immigrant communities. When undocumented immigrants who are the victims of or witnesses to crimes recognize that they might be liable to detention and even deportation, supporters of sanctuary cities suggest that they are less likely to report those crimes to local authorities. Within this line of reasoning, sanctuary policies aim to ensure that all citizens feel confident in working with law enforcement. By promoting the reporting of crimes and fostering trust, these policies protect not only undocumented immigrants, but also the community at large.

Our tradition offers teachings about the importance of providing sanctuary for immigrants. The Torah instructs “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself” (Leviticus 19:33-34). More recently, we recall the immigrant experiences of our own families, many of whom came to North America seeking safety and freedom from persecution. We have an obligation to advocate for a law enforcement system that treats all people, immigrants and non-immigrants alike, with respect and that affords them a basic guarantee of security from wrongdoing.

A number of bills have now been introduced in both the House and the Senate to end sanctuary policies, including the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act (S. 2146) and the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act (H.R. 3009). S. 2146, introduced by Senator Vitter (R-LA), withholds federal funding for jurisdictions that maintain sanctuary policies in order to force compliance with ICE detention orders. It also imposes a five year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal reentry into the United States.

As Reform Jews, we should consider these proposals carefully, weighing how they influence community trust, law enforcement, and our desire to show loving kindness to our immigrant neighbors.

Adam Waters is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He grew up in Coral Springs, FL, and was a member of Temple Beth Orr. Adam graduated from Brown University.

Adam Waters

Published: 10/12/2015