Politics has a nasty habit of trumping good policy. In the case of so-called sanctuary cities, it also manages to overwhelm our otherwise well-honed commitment to the rule of law.
Next year, Travis County will welcome a new sheriff, Sally Hernandez, into office. The sheriff-elect has taken a careless stance on immigration in that she has fervently and publically rebuked her predecessor’s policy of cooperating with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, when it requested that the sheriff’s office hold inmates so that they might be removed from the country.
Were we to take the sheriff-elect’s campaign promises at face value, Austin would be the first Texas municipality to fully qualify as a “sanctuary city.”
The sheriff-elect defends her radical departure of existing law by attempting to wrap immigration enforcement in a swath of social justice causes. She doesn’t think, for instance, that “you solve the criminal justice process by deporting them.” Likewise, she calls ICE’s policies “discriminatory” and has urged for a more “progressive” approach to “treat everybody fairly and equally.”
Never mind that ICE’s current deportation standards originated in the Obama Administration which, at least since 2011, has chiefly focused its enforcement effort at undocumented immigrants convicted of the most violent and heinous crimes.
Popular attacks aside, the government has little interest in breaking up families; nor do they seek to deport victims who bring incidents of misconduct to the attention of authorities.
Hernandez’s reasoning is one of ideology, not facts. It advances a narrative that lauds the appearance of compassion towards immigrants but never truly confronts the policy’s substance or how non-compliance can hurt the very audience that sanctuary cities are said to help.
Had Hernandez done so, she would have realized that sanctuary cities are the policy equivalent of a dead end. Nothing moves forward. Not public safety. Not the rule of law. Certainly not the men, women, and children who thirst for the American Dream but have had the forbearance to pursue it through appropriate means.
Indeed, our nation enjoys a proud history of lawful immigration. You might even call it our country’s cultural backbone. And you would be hard pressed to find a constituency on either side of the political aisle who wants that tradition to stop.
Sanctuary cities, however, implicate different concerns.
Exit polls in the last presidential race showed that President-elect Trump won a higher percentage of the Hispanic vote than the Republican Party’s two previous nominees. He secured that margin even though the experts had anticipated that his rhetoric against sanctuary cities and illegal immigration would hobble him in the Hispanic community.
The results are hardly a surprise when you actually take the time to learn about what matters to voters. According to that same exit poll, voters understood that lawlessness hurts immigrants who seek to enter the country legally since it makes it more difficult, more expensive, and more time-consuming to navigate the process.
The United States is a generous nation, but policymakers are unlikely to widen the entranceway if the halls are already crowded.
In addition, by cutting holes into the federal government’s enforcement fabric, sanctuary cities imperil public safety. Dangerous criminal elements now know that if deported, they have a safe place to land upon reentry—places like Denver, Seattle, New York City, Philadelphia, Austin.
“Kate’s Law,” named for murder victim Kate Steinle, mandates prison terms for those with multiple deportations and is a response to San Francisco’s sanctuary city policies, which fails to provide for the protection of its citizens.
Even here in Texas, where sanctuary cities have yet to gain full traction, residents have suffered from repeat offenders able to exploit holes in our immigration laws. Nicodemo Coria-Gonzalez was deported multiple times, only to return and commit a series of rapes in the Austin area. He’s a prime example of the criminal element which will be emboldened by the sheriff-elect’s renegade policies.
We cannot allow individuals to avoid justice and accountability. We cannot allow sanctuary cities to harbor these criminals. We cannot allow city officials to skirt the law at their whim.
This upcoming session, the Texas Legislature will make ending sanctuary cities a top priority. Already, several bills have been filed to that effect, including S.B. 4, which would allow law enforcement to investigate a suspect’s immigration status as well as demand that municipalities implement immigration laws already on the books.
Governor Greg Abbott has endorsed the sentiment behind these efforts, promising “to sign a law that bans sanctuary cities.” He also tweeted, “I've already issued an order cutting funding to sanctuary cities” in the meantime.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has echoed with his own support: “No city in Texas should be allowed to ignore the law. We will end this practice once and for all this session.”
Sanctuary cities argue for keeping illegal immigrant families together, yet they ignore that Kate Steinle’s family is forever shattered. Americans overwhelmingly understand that one of our first duties as a nation is to protect our citizens. It is time that the sheriff-elect and other local officials in Texas learn the same lesson.