On ‘sanctuary cities,’ local governments should not flout federal law

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2015/08/21/local-governments-should-not-flout-federal-law/

The shooting last month by an illegal immigrant of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, who died in her father’s arms on a San Francisco pier, has focused the nation’s attention on so-called “sanctuary cities” — local jurisdictions that, as a matter of policy, refuse to comply with federal immigration law.

Today, there are more than 276 U.S. “sanctuary cities.” Lawrence recently became seventh such city in the Bay State, joining Cambridge, Chelsea, Northampton, Orleans, Somerville and Springfield. But, unofficially, many more jurisdictions ignore immigration law.

Since Steinle’s tragic death, Congress has considered several proposals that would to end or discourage local governments from taking the law into their own hands. One common sense proposal, dubbed “Kate’s Law,” would mandate long prison sentences for illegal immigrants arrested after a previous deportation. Another bill would cut off federal funding to cities with “sanctuary” policies.

Many liberal groups oppose these measures, arguing that state and local governments should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to assist federal immigration officials.

But the American people, three-quarters of whom say that immigration is a “good thing for the country,” are largely supportive of efforts to rein in rogue municipalities. A Rasmussen poll from July, for example, found that 62 percent of likely voters want the Justice Department to take legal action against cities that actively defy U.S. immigration law.

Nevertheless, Massachusetts legislators are attempting to do just the opposite.  Legislation introduced by State Senator Jamie Eldgridge (S 1258) and Representative Evandro Carvalho (H 1228) would prohibit local police from cooperating with federal immigration officials except in cases involving dangerous suspects and criminals, in essence turning the entire commonwealth into a “sanctuary state.” (In 2013, a Massachusetts budget amendment that would have cut off funding to local cities and towns that defied federal law failed in the House by a vote of 31-125.)

Gov. Charlie Baker has said that he will veto the so-called “Trust Act,” so named because its proponents claim that it will improve trust between immigrant communities and the police. But Baker has also said that he will defer to local jurisdictions on whether or not to enforce federal law.

“The people who are elected locally are most accountable to local communities and to local residents, and they ought to make the call on this,” Baker told Boston Public Radio last week.

Since when does Baker support the idea that local governments can nullify federal law?

Our constitutional system cannot work if we allow states and local jurisdictions to pick and choose the laws they will follow. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power “to establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization” and, by extension, the power to determine how many immigrants to admit to the country. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that immigration is the exclusive responsibility of the federal government.

One may disagree with the federal government’s current immigration policy. But the federal government, not states or local jurisdictions, is the authority entrusted with setting that policy.

It was wrong, decades ago, for southern states and municipalities to flout federal desegregation decrees, even though those local officials were also, in Baker’s words, “most accountable to local communities and to local residents.” We did not allow local segregationists to “make the call” on whether to abide by federal civil rights law, and we should not allow local jurisdictions to “make the call” on immigration either.

What about the activists who support the right of cities to decide whether or not to comply with immigration law? Do they not see the irony that, at a time when liberals want to nationalize almost every local issue, they have discovered a new found love of states’ rights and local control?

Immigration is an issue that affects us all (not just those of us in “border states” or “sanctuary cities”), which is precisely the reason that it demands a national solution. Allowing individual communities to determine how to handle the problem will only increase the chaos in the already dysfunctional immigration system.

In one sense, America is already a “sanctuary country” — but not in the way that some activists use the term. We are a nation of immigrants: a nation founded by immigrants; a nation with one of the most permissive immigration policies in the world; a nation that since 1970 has provided shelter, comfort, and refuge to more than 35-million legal immigrants. In this sense, sanctuary is this country’s raison d’etre. Local governments don’t need to snub federal law to prove it.

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