Sanctuary policies spark debate


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The San Francisco City Hall, where the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs is located.

by Prameela Kottapalli, Winged Post Asst. Features Editor

When most people think of the word “sanctuary,” they think of safety, a place to take refuge in the midst troubled times. But for some, sanctuary is much more than that–it’s a policy, one that enables undocumented immigrants to receive an education, to hold jobs and to contribute to society.

“It’s allowed them to live their lives: to flourish, to work, to go to school, and to be engaged in society. It’s given parents the confidence that their children can attend school, learn and not be deported,” Adrienne Pon, the executive the director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs in San Francisco, said. “It makes immigrants, regardless of their status, feel like they are a part of the community, and they, in turn, contributes a lot to our success.”

“Sanctuary city” is the designation given to a municipality in which citizens are protected from law enforcement repercussions on basis of their legal status as immigrants. In the recent months, though, the term has also been used disparagingly, particularly by politicians and right-wing activists who oppose more welcoming immigration policy.

During the second week of April, President Donald Trump issued an executive order mandating a block in federal funding of city governments that adopt sanctuary ordinance. The directive was met with backlash from city officials, lawyer and immigrant allies, and the San Francisco and Santa Clara County municipalities are currently attempting to sue the Trump administration arguing that the president’s order was unconstitutional.

Prior to the court lawsuit, the Immigrants’ Rights Commission in San Francisco–of which Adrienne Pon and the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs are a part of–held a briefing in which they discussed the impact of changes in federal immigration policy on the general public, particularly amongst the immigrant worker population.

Sanctuary policy–which restricts law enforcement officials from using city resources to aid Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)–allows undocumented immigrants in urban areas to access public health and safety resources without fear of federal immigration law repercussions.

“It keeps communities safe by making sure that all residents, regardless of their immigration status, feel comfortable calling the police, reporting public hazards and emergencies, reporting domestic abuse and cooperating with city agencies,” Pon said. “It also keeps communities healthy by making sure that all residents feel comfortable reporting if there’s an outbreak of disease– they feel comfortable accessing city health services and benefit programs.”

But there’s another side to the sanctuary policy debate. Many of those who oppose the ordinance, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), argue that there exists an association between a high population of undocumented immigrants and crime.

“Sanctuary policies protect criminal aliens and illegal immigrants who have violated laws and should not be in the country,” David Ray, the communications director for FAIR, said. “By looking the other way and not asking for someone’s immigration status, it can also hurt illegal immigrants as well.”

Moreover, sanctuary guidelines defy national immigration standards by preventing counties from complying with the federal government in cooperating with detainer requests. According to FAIR, sanctuary policy also “gives prospective immigrants little incentive to pursue legal paths to immigration” as they would be protected under the ordinance of their local county.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on May 11, 2017.