President Donald Trump says that he is “strongly looking at” the idea of transporting migrants to so-called sanctuary cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. (April 12)
WASHINGTON – From legal services and family resource centers to scholarships and employment preparation, many big cities have set up a dedicated infastructure, costing millions a year, to help immigrants.
So when President Donald Trump threatened to ship undocumented immigrants who crossed the border illegally to various sanctuary cities across the nation, big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago weren’t detoured.
“Not only does hate have no home in Chicago, but, as a welcoming city, we would welcome these migrants with open arms, just as we welcomed Syrian refugees, just as we welcomed Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria and just as we welcome Rohingya refugees fleeing genocide in Myanmar,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed similar thoughts: “New York City will always be the ultimate city of immigrants – the President’s empty threats won’t change that.” And Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city wasn’t afraid, calling Trump’s proposal “a needless distraction and a waste of time” that seeks to “demonize immigrants.”
Sticking by their guns was a relatively easy feat for those larger sanctuary cities, communities that generally do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. But for smaller sanctuary communities, taking in an unknown number of immigrants could prove to be more challenging.
“The official designation as a sanctuary city just puts a target on our back for the current administration in Washington,” said Robert Moon, the mayor of Palm Springs, Calif. He added that he’s been worried about “unintended and unforeseen consequences” of officially dubbing the community of 48,000 a sanctuary city.
Moon, who was the sole member of the city council opposed to making the community a sanctuary for migrants, said Trump’s proposal worried him as the city did not have a plan in place for a sudden influx of migrants and would likely lead to city leaders dipping into emergency funds.
“Even if we identified the funding, it would be a challenge as to where to physically house them,” Moon said, noting the city is already struggling to house its current homeless population. “We would also have to be concerned with the costs and logistics of feeding them, providing necessary medical care, and the many other expenses of caring for people who have very little if any funds to support themselves.”
Moon’s concerns were overruled in February when the city voted the dub itself a sanctuary city, which was largely a symbolic gesture since the state of California is considered a sanctuary state. He added that in any event, Trump’s proposal “would be a very challenging situation for us.”
Lisa Middleton, a Palm Springs city council member who voted in favor to make the community a sanctuary city, saw things differently than Moon. She said “it would be a mistake” to take the plan as a “serious policy proposal” but said nonetheless, the city’s mission to open its arms to immigrants would not be detoured.
“It is time for the leader of the free world to stop playing to the crowds. This is a test of leadership,” she said. “My city and our people will do our part.”
The concerns, though, aren’t unfounded. Other smaller sanctuary cities, while noting that Trump’s proposal was a longshot in becoming a reality, said shipping undocumented immigrants to their community could put a strain on the city.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says rounding up immigrants and shipping them to sanctuary cities is “disrespectful.” The California Democrat was asked about reports that the White House had considered sending immigrants to sanctuary cities. (April 12)
In the college city of Boulder, Colo., which voted days before Trump’s inauguration in 2017 to dub itself a sanctuary city, Mayor Suzanne Jones conceded that while the city is proud to welcome immigrants, if Trump’s plan came to fruition it would put a strain on her community.
The college city of 322,000, 90% of whom are white, according to Census data from 2017, doesn’t boast big immigration centers and hasn’t set aside money for such programs like larger cities.
“I agree that larger cities already have the systems and scale of services in place to help absorb more people than a community like ours,” Jones said. “We would rely on the faith community and non-profits to step up and fill gaps because we have strong moral values that say we should take care of the most vulnerable parts of our population.”
Jones said a lot of effects the proposal could have on her city come down to the unknowns of Trump’s proposal: how many immigrants could be sent to her community, would the federal government help with funding, would the immigrants go through background checks as resettled refugees do?
She noted that if it meant a large influx of migrants suddenly showing up in the city, the community would get through it and simply have to “roll up its sleeves.”
Despite the political attacks to sanctuary cities, Jones said it does not scare her or her community.
“I think being a sanctuary city is a badge of honor,” she said. “It’s standing up for the values of our community and the values that our country was founded upon, and we do so proudly.”
Both Jones and Ithaca, N.Y. Mayor Svante Myrick said they believed that Trump’s proposal could actually be part of the solution to the flow of immigrants who cross the border illegally, which hit a 12-year high in March.
“I actually think this is the solution,” Myrick said. “It’s all we’ve asked for from the federal government, which is to take a more humane approach to immigration.”
The problem, he and Jones agreed, was how the administration approached the idea, treating it as a threat and using people as political pawns, they say. If the idea was rolled out as a partnership between federal, state and local communities, it could help alleviate detention centers and provide a better way of life for immigrants.
He noted that the city of 31,000 has a long history of accepting immigrations, relying on the faith community to help migrants and refugees who traveled everywhere from Iraq, Afganistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Vietnam, get resettled in the U.S. Myrick said his community could easily take a few dozen undocumented migrants but if that number was a few thousand, it could put a strain on resources.
“It was was something like 5,000 immigrants sent to our city then we would treat it like a natural disaster,” Myrick said, noting that his community, like others, has plans in place for residents when it comes to tornadoes, floods and other disasters that could be used to help immigrants for a short period.
“[Becoming a sanctuary city] did put a circle and a target on our backs,” Myrick admitted. “But, we have a duty to stand up and draw fire away from those who can’t take it.”
Asked whether allowing undocumented immigrants to settle in sanctuary cities would potentially increase the number of immigrants illegally in the country, Myrick pointed to Trump’s harsh policies and rhetoric and the stark rise in migrants crossing the border. In March, 92,607 immigrants were apprehended at the border – the highest monthly total since April 2007, when 104,465 immigrants were stopped trying to enter the country illegally.
“We know the president’s target might be to hurt us but we also know he has poor aim as he’s lost time and time again in court over his policies,” Myrick added. “He thinks he’s calling our bluff like we’re just virtue signaling, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
Contributing: Julie Makinen, The Desert Sun
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