Washington, D.C., as a Sanctuary City: Honesty and Balance Needed

Less than 24 hours after Donald Trump won the election for President of the United States, Mayor Muriel Bowser was confronted by an angry group of “activists” according to the Washington Post. They demanded protection from Trump’s immigration law enforcers.

“We don’t feel safe,” one of the protestors yelled at Bowser. “We’re afraid our families will be torn apart. I am undocumented, and I fear I will be targeted for my immigration status. We are facing a fascist maniac.”

Bowser was quick to respond. “We are a sanctuary city and our policies are clear,” she responded in a Nov. 19 statement from her office. “Every resident of Washington, D.C., should continue to work, play, go to school – go about your day-to-day lives – knowing that the government of Washington, D.C., is here for you. The job of the government is to serve residents and keep them safe.”

Trump supporters were also quick to respond.  “Any city that does not cooperate with immigration authorities to uphold federal immigration law will be subject to removal of their federal funds. It can be done with a stroke of a pen at noon, Jan. 20 as soon as he is sworn in as president,” said Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) on CNN Nov. 22.  The authorizing letter was signed by Attorney General Loretta Lynch last summer, and it can be immediately implemented.

Withholding federal funds?  Fascist maniac? Unsafe? Families torn apart? Targeted for being an immigrant?

These are strong, dare-it-be-said close to hysterical statements. They clearly exacerbate fear and anger on all sides.  They also clearly contain not just a little bit of political spin.

What is this really all about? Questions need to be asked. Who is in such dire danger and why? Are threatened enforcement actions legal, justified and doable? Answers need to be honest and frank and not smothered by political correctness.

Sanctuary cities have been a growing focus in the complicated efforts of immigration reform dealing with millions of foreign nationals of all ages and backgrounds who live and work in the United States illegally.  But in some ways, the sanctuary city issue is easy. Just three facts explain the basics:

ONE:  It mostly involves known convicted criminals who are illegally in the country and under deportation orders by a court of justice.  They have gone through the court process, through detention and often even through the prison system. They know they are subject to deportation and so usually do their families.

TWO: It is based on the open refusal of more than 200 cities in the United States to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to even share information, to hold, retain, detain or even inform them. when a convicted criminal illegal immigrant is ready to be released and deported. Instead the convicted supposed-to-be deported felon is offered  “sanctuary,” often under the guise of moral justice and civil rights, and released freely into society.

THREE:  The federal funds that can be withheld are those having to do with criminal justice grants only.  According to Culberson, sections of the U.S. code make it unlawful for any person or government agency to shield convicted criminal immigrants facing deportation and release them back into society. Those who do should not be eligible for federal justice support grants.

Washington, D.C., is the territory of national legislators, law implementers, law enforcers and the U.S. Supreme Court.  It is prudent, especially in this city, the capital of the United States, that citizens dive through the politically motivated rhetoric, protected speech and the unsaid words, the implications and the realities of offering sanctuary to those convicted of crimes and undermining our rule of law.

In fact, Bowser and university provosts throughout the region only offer to “keep their residents safe.” They call that being a sanctuary city. But if you look and listen carefully, they do not and cannot commit to protecting convicted criminals from punishment — even if it means deportation – meted out by the courts.

Let’s be honest about this so that we may move on to the larger issues about illegal immigration.  Let’s be clear that if an illegal immigrant is convicted of a crime — punishable by deportation — city and university officials shall not promise to protect them and undermine our criminal justice system and immigration laws. Citizens should support that.

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