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Monday, January 9, 2017

                                      PHILLY’S SANCTUARY CITY QUAGMIRE
                                                  THE LOCAL LENS


    Recently Mayor Kenney gave a talk at the Community College of Philadelphia and reaffirmed his commitment to keeping the city’s sanctuary city status intact. He joined with several other U.S. mayors in reconfirming the city’s commitment to “protect” (illegal) immigrants from possible deportation. The announcement came as a sort of clarion call in the wake of the coming Trump presidency which promises to prioritize issues related to illegal immigration.
   “I am hopeful, but cautious,” Kenney said about the coming Trump Administration. “I want everyone to understand that cities, including Philadelphia, have been the bastion of protection for minorities….for immigrants, and we’re not walking this back.”
      Strong words from a basically quiet man who doesn’t give the impression that he could slay a Goliath, be it on a mountaintop or in the halls of justice. The mayor also made it known that he would cooperate with President Trump in “anything that is positive.” The mayor added: “We’re not walking back on anything we’ve established to make our city progressive.” He then advised Philadelphians to “stick together.”
     But read the 662-plus comments on regarding this topic and you will get the impression that Philadelphians are far from unified on this topic. Most of the comments were critical of the mayor’s bravado in challenging the Trump Administration’s threat to cut off federal funding to the city if it does not backtrack on its sanctuary city stand. 
    In a nutshell, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mandates that local police forces in American cities detain immigrants not in the country legally for up to 48 hours if they are arrested for a crime. The 2-day hold would allow ICE time to come in and deport the person(s) in question. Some mayors (there are 300 sanctuary city jurisdictions throughout the U.S.) have stated that they do not want their police departments to act as a deportation agency because they fear that doing so would put undue burdens on the department.
      Certainly, if I committed a crime my U.S. citizen’s status would not protect me from the police. It is doubtful whether anyone would hide or shelter me (my friends would tell me to own up and turn myself in), and in this age of camera surveillance and Orwellian tracking, an attempted escape 1940s style on a Greyhound bus to an obscure town in the American west, would be a futile task. Instead, I would be hauled out of my hiding place, marched into a holding cell, booked, and then forced to deal with the consequences.  The only “break” I would receive would be in the form of bail. If I received a prison term for my crime, the treatment I’d be subject to as a U.S. citizen, while not as bad as the abuses suffered by non-citizen terrorists in the notorious Geuanatmo prison, would still have elements of brutality. I’m thinking especially of the horrendous abuses in the U.S. prison system in the area of solitary confinement as shockingly laid out in a new book, Hell is a Very Small Place, Voices from Solitary Confinement (The New Press). .
     While the American penal system is a topic worthy of a separate column, I ‘d like to suggest to those mayors bent on preserving their cities’ sanctuary city status that, rather than “hide” criminals who are not yet citizens, they should instead devote their energies to reforming the U.S. prison system. That would be a far more productive thing to do.
     Immigration, after all, would not be the issue it is today if the system had implemented a means of checks and balances rather than amble along on an increasingly sloppy and haphazard path over the last 40 years or so.  Cautionary note: Every sloppy practice has a karmic downswing. The downswing here is that everyone who entered the country illegally years ago has had time to make the USA home, and in so doing they have completely forgotten about their status, in some cases married and had children, all of which complicated the issue tremendously because their kids are now “real” citizens while they, the parents, are not. 
      How does anyone untangle this mess, especially when the system is to blame for the quagmire? The system also includes employers who have used undocumented workers because they are cheap labor. Why hire the teenager around the corner who is going to get uppity every six months and ask for a pay raise, when you can employ a grateful non-citizen who doesn’t want anyone to know that he or she doesn’t have papers?
      Illegal immigrants, especially those of Mexican descent, are famously hard workers, and restaurant bosses love this fact. When nearly every restaurant in town is following similar hiring practices, before long all sense of illegality is lost as the practice of hiring the undocumented normalizes or “legalizes” like a common law marriage.  Eventually the point is reached where the “guilty” employers say something like, “Papers? We’ve never checked new hires for papers!”  The shock of a President Trump coming in and saying, “Oh no, you’ve been doing this all wrong for years, and it’s going to change,” is understandable, given the slow slide into false legalism.  
      Mr. Trump is on record as saying that he does not want to deport law biding   illegal immigrants with families but he wants to deport illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes.
     Part of the problem lies with politicians like Mayor Kenney who do not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. 
      As I told a friend recently, if there’s no difference between the two classes of immigrants, if one is just as “good” as the other, then what’s the point of even having a national immigration policy? Why not just have open borders and scrap the whole citizenship thing? Whoever walks (or flies) across the border and enters the U.S. is an automatic citizen. Let’s make the USA like a big Woodstock where everyone can huddle happily under blankets and watch the sun rise.
  If we want a country like this, then let’s do it, but let’s also not pretend that we have to have a department to run immigration and then not pay attention to the rules we set up. 

   .   Although there may be some Constitutional issues in disbanding sanctuary cities, President Trump could get Congress to approve a bill that cuts off funding for local police force in sanctuary jurisdictions.   
   The following is a short list (from Mother Jones) of what some major US sanctuary cities would lose in federal funds under a Trump presidency.
    (1) San Francisco would lose 1 billion in federal funding
    (2) Washington DC would lose 25 % of its city budget
     (3) Chicago would lose 10 % of its city budget or 1 billion
   (4) Denver would lose 175 billion
    (5) New York would lose over 7 billion
     (6) Los Angeles would lose 507 million
      Interestingly, Mother Jones does not list what Philadelphia’s loses would be, but perhaps Mayor Kenney knows what that figure is and he’s not telling. I have to wonder, however, if the mayor has given ample thought to what would happen to Philly if federal funds were withdrawn because the mayor wants to the city to be “progressive.” One question looms:  Will Mr. Trump’s withdrawing of federal funds for Philly have any effect on the mayor’s concern for poor inner city African American kids?
    For a city as addicted to state and federal subsidies as Philadelphia is, Kenney’s policy strikes me as being slightly suicidal. Philadelphia, like me or you, is not above the law. And that’s why I would like the mayor to put his challenging bravado away and think of the long term consequences of fighting Goliath.

      What is most troubling is the mayor’s refusal to differentiate between illegal and legal immigrants, especially since no one is advocating that the United States deport people who are here legally. In a way, our noble mayor is helping to whip up hysteria because he finds it politically advantageous to refuse to distinguish between the words ‘legal’ and ‘illegal.’
  It’s just not good policy to be in the business of scaring all immigrants.