The Sanctuary City movement grew out of efforts by churches in the 1980s to provide protection to mainly Central Americans fleeing violence, political and religious persecution in their country.
Like most Americans, I believe that innocent and law-abiding immigrants, who demonstrate in their personal lives and work ethic that they truly want to become American citizens for the betterment of themselves and their families, should be provided some form of immigration status until a path to citizenship is established.
However, the political “intelligencia” of San Francisco sensed an opportunity to show the world just how concerned they were about the plight of these poor refugees. As a result, they passed a 1989 law called the City and County of Refuge ordinance, which prohibited city employees from helping federal immigration efforts unless compelled by court order or state law.
In 2007, Gavin Newsom reaffirmed that no city employee would be allowed to help in any “way, shape or form” with immigration enforcement.
In 2013, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Due Process for All Ordinance, which severely limited the ability of local authorities to honor any requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
It’s hard to believe that this ordinance was passed in the wake of the horrible Bologna family murders in 2008, when a mother lost a husband and two sons to a known criminal undocumented immigrant, who should have been deported before the murders but was protected under San Francisco sanctuary laws.
If city employees and local law enforcement agencies are forbidden from cooperating with ICE unless by court order, they can easily ignore the primary tool ICE uses to initiate deportation proceedings against illegal criminal aliens. A detainer is the primary tool used by ICE to notify another law enforcement agency that ICE intends to take custody of criminal aliens for deportation. The detainer includes information about the alien’s criminal history, immigration violations and potential risk to public safety.
Certain opportunistic politicians have found it rewarding to pander to a specific constituency without thinking through the effect on public safety. Sanctuary policies, while purporting to protect the innocent, actually give cover to illegal criminal aliens.
Nationwide, 276 jurisdictions have adopted sanctuary policies that encourage noncompliance with some or all of the detainers issued by ICE.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2014, 8,145 criminal alien offenders were released into society because of sanctuary policies.
Of the 8,145 released, 5,131 (63 percent) were previously convicted or charged with a serious crime and labeled a “Public Safety Concern.”
At the time of release, 2,036 (25 percent) of these criminal illegals were already felons.
Of the 8,145 criminal offenders released, 25 percent went on to commit an additional 4,300 serious crimes. Of these recidivists, 60 percent are still at large.
Since Aug. 31, 2014, the number of criminal aliens released by sanctuary jurisdictions has exceeded 17,000 with 60 percent still at large.
Sanctuary City policies are divisive and misused. In reality, they impede a fair, effective and efficient national immigration system and actually hinder the ability of local law enforcement to protect society.
Advocates often promote the “myth” that society is safer because sanctuary policies allow illegal immigrants to cooperate with law enforcement. The fact is that federal “U Visas” already afford illegal aliens that protection.
Advocates for sanctuary often cite compassion for all illegal aliens. Concerns for compassion should be focused on the plight of American citizens and lawful immigrants as opposed to those aliens who violate our laws and our borders.
The present immigration system is wholly mismanaged and underfunded. ICE cannot even keep up with the tracking and deportation of some 60 percent of existing illegal alien felons who have been released into society by sanctuary cities.
To make matters worse, earlier this year the Obama administration had given sanctuary cities free rein to ignore detainers by ending the successful Secure Communities Program and replacing it with the Priority Enforcement Program. This explicitly allows local agencies to disregard ICE detainers and respond only to “requests for notifications,” which contain no information about the alien in question or provisions for enforcement.
The solution is for Congress to revamp our immigration system to ensure fairness to those law-abiding aliens seeking citizenship and spell out that local authorities must cooperate with ICE detainers regarding serious criminal offenders or face sanctions in the form of disqualification from certain kinds of federal funding.
Instead of creating laws that obstruct, wouldn’t it be unique if our leaders actually expended effort in trying to repair our broken immigration system so that those who deserve to stay here have a chance versus those who have demonstrated that they should be deported because of their criminal activity?
Tony Hall is a former San Francisco supervisor.