Local Government
Commentary: Sanctuary Cities are a Good Idea – Here’s Why

Commentary: Sanctuary Cities are a Good Idea – Here’s Why

By David Carmany.

Throughout much of my career as a City Manager, the job has been, if not simple, then at least relatively straightforward.  Working on behalf of and in concert with the cities I’ve served, I’ve sought to ensure that streets were paved, trash was picked up, fires were put out, courts delivered justice, criminals were jailed, hospitals served the sick, social services helped those in need, and schools educated our youth.  Over time, however, the job has changed, and with shifting demographics surfacing unique opportunities and unique challenges, it’s imperative that local government pivot to meet the needs of its residents.  Accordingly, while a considerable portion of my career up until now has been dedicated to ensuring that local agencies have the personnel, strategies, and resources they need to operate at their best, it’s become clear to me that optimizing public resources is only half the battle.  The other half, as I see it, involves convincing the populace to use these resources, which has arguably become increasingly difficult at a time and in a place in which many of our friends and neighbors fear that in so doing, they may risk deportation or other punitive measures.

By way of example, a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy recently suffered a medical emergency that required immediate gall bladder surgery.  On her way to the hospital, however, the ambulance carrying her passed through an internal U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint, at which time immigration agents discovered that she’d been brought to the country illegally when she was three months old.   The girl was then followed to the hospital by agents who detained her after her surgery, separated her from her parents, and took her to a facility for unaccompanied immigrant minors.  While the girl was eventually reunited with her parents after nine days in custody, she was also served with a notice to appear in immigration court, and at present, it remains to be seen if she and her parents will be deported.

While the incident in question occurred in Texas, not California, it highlights one of the most pressing concerns in many of our local communities today.  More specifically, during a time of increased federal immigration scrutiny when one need only turn on the television or scan the internet to find stories about children being taken into custody on their way to hospitals or parents being detained by ICE while dropping off their children at school, it’s safe to assume that until or unless things change, our undocumented population will be largely disinclined to report crimes to the police, or report fires to the fire department, or register children for school, or apply for DACA or similar grants.  This, in turn, adversely affects the entire community, since it’s always in the best interest of everyone that crimes be reported, fires be dealt with, legal matters be handled in court, children be educated, etc.

Lest one be tempted to minimize this concern, it’s worth noting that according to a recent Pew Research study, Southern California is home to an estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants—the single largest concentration anywhere in the country.  In La Puente, the city in which I currently serve, 85.1% of the population is Hispanic or Latino (according to the 2010 census), and among that population, some are undoubtedly undocumented.   Even among those with citizenship, a recent Gallup poll reveals that between 2012 and 2017, confidence in police among our nation’s Hispanic population dropped from 59% to 45%–a phenomenon that should be alarming to all of us, especially given that our police officers—men and women I’ve had the honor or working alongside of for years—dedicate themselves to serving and protecting us all.

In light of these and similar trends, and in consideration of the Justice Department’s current hardline stance on immigration, I believe there’s a strong case to be made for Sanctuary Cities.  To be clear, more often than not, it’s absolutely in a city’s best interest to cooperate with the national government and national law enforcement agencies, but as a City Manager, my loyalty lies first and foremost with the citizens of my city, and in the case of La Puente (and communities like it), I’ve little doubt that sanctuary status is in its best interest of everyone.  As I see it, this isn’t a political issue, but rather a public policy issue, and by voicing my support for sanctuary status, my intention isn’t to denigrate our national law enforcement agencies or rebuke our politicians in Washington.  Rather, by prohibiting city employees from questioning individuals about their immigration status, and by refusing to have local law enforcement officers detain people for immigration-related issues alone, my hope and expectation is that locals—whether U.S. citizens or not—will feel more comfortable reporting crimes, enrolling their children in school, utilizing the justice system, and making use of hospitals and social services—civic activities that ought to be the goal of any well-intentioned City Manager.

With this in mind, I’m encouraged by California’s unprecedented passage of Senate Bill 54, which will go into effect on January 1st, 2018, and in so doing make California the nation’s first “sanctuary state.”   I would argue, however, that forthcoming statewide protections shouldn’t  deter us from continuing to designate sanctuary status on a local level as well.   After all, much like Coffee with a Cop sessions, school open houses, city council meetings, farmers markets, and other local outreach programs, there’s a strong case to be made for the benefits of engaging the citizenry on a personal level, advocating for inclusiveness, and assuring the men, women, and children who make up our communities that they’re valued, they’re safe, and that all of them—regardless of immigration status—are encouraged to make use of public resources, and in so doing ensure that our cities will be safer, smarter, and all around better places in which to live.

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