Why sanctuary cities must exist

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A third of undocumented immigrants 15 and older lives with at least one child who is a United States citizen by birth. Slightly more than 30 percent own homes. Only a tiny fraction has been convicted of felonies or serious misdemeanors.

Wei Lee and his parents came to San Francisco from Brazil on tourist visas in 2005. They remained after the visas expired. Photo credit: Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

Taken from Los Angeles Time article

The concept of sanctuary derives from the ancient imperative to provide hospitality to the stranger. In Greek cities, slaves and thieves took sanctuary at the shrines of the gods, which were asylos, inviolable. In biblical times, those found to have committed accidental murder could flee to sanctuary cities, where they were to remain, in safety, and then emerge upon the death of the high priest (Numbers 35:28). Biblical cities of refuge were places for wrongdoers who did not warrant the fullest sanction of the law but were assigned a period of separation from the community instead.

In the Middle Ages, seeking sanctuary in any church was a legal option for accused felons. They could stay in the church, fed by neighbors for up to 40 days. When they emerged, they could confess, give up all their belongings and go into exile. Sanctuary in any case delayed prosecution. In one case, it protected a man in flight from mistaken vengeance by giving him the chance to explain he had not been present at the scene of the original crime. In another, sanctuary protected a boy who accidentally killed his brother with a rock. When the boy was finally prosecuted, the jury concluded that the brother died of a seizure before the rock struck him. Sanctuary had provided time for the community to decide that, whatever the facts of the case, the boy did not deserve hanging or exile.

In biblical history and in the Middle Ages, sanctuary enabled communities to adjust the law to exceptional circumstances. In later centuries, the law took such circumstances into account when it established different degrees of murder.

The sanctuary cities of the 2000s are part of this American tradition. Some municipalities deliberately lay claim to the title explicitly to protect immigrants. Others simply wish to avoid potential legal problems that might stem from detaining people without full authority. Many, including Los Angeles, cite the difficulty of policing the city when the undocumented are afraid any contact with the authorities could end in deportation.

Instead of attacking sanctuary cities, Congress should be listening to their message.

The sanctuary movement considers a purely bureaucratic enforcement system, which can include long detainment and judgment without jury or even a judge, as an arbitrary arm of prejudicial policy instead of just law.

No legal system can perfectly implement justice in every circumstance. Sanctuary serves now as it has in the past as a corrective and a challenge to such imperfection. We should remember that it was once a part of the law, and it remains an effective way to reform and strengthen it.

Elizabeth Allen is an associate professor of English at UC Irvine. She is at work on a book on the idea of sanctuary in medieval literature.


NY TIMES: Here’s the Reality About Illegal Immigrants in the United States

Statistics show that many of the undocumented fit this profile. About 60 percent of the unauthorized population has been here for at least a decade, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

In the public’s mind, the undocumented — the people living here without permission from the American government — are Hispanic, mostly Mexican and crossed the southwestern border in secret.

In the eyes of their advocates, they are families and workers, taking the jobs nobody else wants, staying out of trouble, here only to earn their way to better, safer lives for themselves and their children.

At the White House, they are pariahs, criminals who menace American neighborhoods, take American jobs, sap American resources and exploit American generosity: They are people who should be, and will be, expelled.

Illegal immigrants can be many of these things, and more. Eleven million allows for considerable range, crosshatched with contradictions.

There may be no more powerful symbol of how fixedly Americans associate illegal immigration with Mexico than the wall President Trump has proposed building along the southern border. But many of the unauthorized are not Mexican; almost a quarter are not even Hispanic.

Full text to NYTimes 



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