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Sanctuary Cities: Not a Good Idea

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The term 'Sanctuary City' at first glance has a righteous, humanitarian ring. The word 'sanctuary' (alone) makes most people think of a safe haven in an unfriendly environment. Sanctuary as a place of refuge is an old concept.

For centuries, European churches traditionally offered sanctuary to criminals. Criminals in England, for instance, could also stay for indefinite periods of time at "chartered sanctuaries" established by the Crown. When the idea of established sanctuaries disappeared in the Sixteenth Century, criminals had nowhere to hide. The Catholic Church always had a rule on sanctuary in its Code of Canon Law but that was abolished in 1983. Many Hollywood movies from the 1950s show a fugitive on the run taking refuge inside a Catholic church as the police waited patiently outside. Those days are gone.

In today's world, there might not be any church sanctuary spaces available but there's a much bigger concept called the Sanctuary City. Entire US cities have become big welcoming churches not for U.S. citizen criminals but for fugitives who have entered the country illegally. The question begs: Is this really a good idea?

Let's backtrack a little. Immigration in this country used to follow a regular pattern. In the three centuries prior to 1910, most immigrants hailed from Western and Northern Europe. After 1910, they came from Eastern and Southern Europe, Canada and Latin America. Ellis Island, New York, processed thousands of immigrants a day where each person was asked a series of probing questions, including, "Are you an anarchist?" The immigrants were then examined by doctors and nurses. People with criminal records, carriers of disease (and all those revolutionary anarchists) were sent home. The flood of immigrants was greatly reduced in the 1920s, partially as a result of WW I. The Ellis Island system was solid and sacrosanct. If you wanted United States citizenship, you had to follow the rules.

'Following the rules' takes many forms. When US citizens apply for a Passport, for instance, they are expected to follow the most miniscule of small print requirements. Disregard just one requirement and you'll get an official notice in the mail denying your application. This is especially true when it comes to the Passport photo. If the photo measurement is off by just a fraction of a centimeter, you'll be asked to redo it. If too much of the shoulder area is exposed in a Passport photo, applicants will be told to resubmit. When I renewed my Passport recently it took three different photo sessions from a professional Passport photographer to get it right. No sanctuary option here.

Try entering Canada without proper ID (today this means a Passport) and see how quickly Canadian authorities send you home. Before a Passport was required to enter Canada, travelers on Amtrak were told in advance what kind of ID to bring. Amtrak trains into Canada stopped at the US-Canada border (they still do) for upwards of 45 minutes while Canadian Customs officials boarded the train and inspected "papers." Inevitably there was always one poor soul who didn't have the right ID who would be asked to leave the train and then escorted into a small foreboding-looking bunker by the tracks where, presumably, they were questioned further. Sometimes they were not allowed back on the train.

Try traveling to Israel from the U.S. and you'll experience the most intense interrogation by security anywhere in the world. Every aspect of your life is up for a probing Q and A: work, home life, religion, marital status, hobbies, sexual orientation or political party affiliation. Israeli security is a big Orwellian machine where any question, no matter how trivial or personal, might be asked. In fact, travelers to Israel are warned in advance to be prepared for the most "politically incorrect" questions imaginable. Before boarding a flight to Tel Aviv some months ago, my 30 minute interrogation by Israeli security, although very polite, left me wondering if I would be approved for boarding.

Okay, so given the tight US Passport requirements, why then do we have the reverse of this, the sloppy Sanctuary City concept?

Hundreds of cities and municipalities in the US have 'sanctuary city' status, which means that in these cities illegal immigrants are shielded from deportation. Sanctuary City status bars police and prison officials from telling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about an illegal immigrant's release from prison. This new system flies in the face of the strict immigration standards set by Ellis Island, when (legal) immigrants with criminal pasts were sent back to their homeland. In 2016, someone can enter the US illegally, commit a crime, serve time in a US prison, and then be released into the general population as a free agent, regardless of the fact that they entered the country illegally. They can then go on to commit other crimes without any risk of deportation as long as they live in a sanctuary city. The big irony here is the fact that what I have just described is prohibited by federal law. Yes, every sanctuary city and municipality is breaking the law. In an even stranger twist, there are some politicians who accuse those who oppose sanctuary cities as being xenophobes.

In October of 1965, then President Lyndon Johnson signed the Teddy Kennedy Immigration and Nationally Act into law on Liberty Island, New York. In many ways the Act was a good thing. It expanded immigration to increase immigrant flow from eastern and southern Europe.

At the signing, Johnson stated, "This bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here. This is a simple test, and it is a fair test. Those who can contribute most to this country--to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit--will be the first that are admitted to this land."

Okay, so what happened in the ensuing years to change this, since many now believe that too many recent immigrants to the United States have not necessarily represented "those who can contribute most to this country?"

One of Mayor Kenney's first Executive Orders was to reinstate the city's 'sanctuary city' status. This news was ecstasy to new City Council member Helen Gym, who raised her fist in a 'Power to the People' salute as Kenney signed the Order. Nicole Kligerman of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, said, "We are thrilled...!" But are we really? Kenney's Executive Order means that Philadelphia is joining those scofflaw cities breaking federal law, such as San Francisco (where a woman was killed by an illegal immigrant who was deported 5 times), Detroit, Portland, Miami, Baltimore and Seattle .

If Philadelphia is breaking the law, what kind of role model is the city offering to its residents? Why should ordinary Philadelphians pay attention to laws against insurance fraud, mail fraud, counterfeiting, child support, arson, embezzlement and motor vehicle crimes? The city is blatantly disregarding President Obama's own disapproval of the sanctuary city concept. We must ask: Why? Will Mayor Kenney go as far as the Republican governor of Nevada, who approved the issuing of drivers licenses to illegal immigrants?

How did we forget that immigration laws are there to protect the public safety?

Consider this: Had I entered Israel illegally after my Q and A with Israeli airport security, and then committed a series of crimes in Tel Aviv, do you think I would have been considered for Israeli citizenship had I wanted to stay? Would I have been offered a sanctuary seat in a cozy city café?

Ex-Governor Rendell is on record as saying that Philadelphia should obey the law. Rendell said that it was the Obama Administration that is enforcing the deportation laws. "So, I think I would've not made Philadelphia a sanctuary city," Rendell said. "... Jim Kenney has been, for the longest time, even going back to when I was Mayor, he's been an advocate for making Philadelphia a more attractive place for immigrants to come and settle and open up businesses. And I agree with that and think his policy is dead on but I think that it can only happen with legal immigrants. "

Thank you, governor.

Meanwhile, the bearded, heavily tattooed 300 pound plus mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, John Fetterman told PoliticsPA that he supports Kenney's Sanctuary City decision. "I want to give my full-throated endorsement of Mayor Kenney's decision. Any Democrat that doesn't agree with this policy is pandering to xenophobia. Sanctuary cities ensure the safety and well-being of everybody."

What Fetterman is basically saying is that unless you fall in line and agree with not enforcing immigration laws, you're basically a panderer to bigots.

As one legislator from New York, Rep. Peter King, put it, "...The general outlook from the media is that it's very humanitarian to have these cities, and that they are protecting the innocent people. Well, as you can have to have an orderly society, orderly immigration, or you're going to see social consequences...".
My one prediction for 2016 is this: Congress will enact legislation to end the sanctuary city problem.


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