This is another piece by me, Brandon Cooper, in a somewhat ongoing series.
Last night, Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party hosted the first “official” debate of possible GOP 2012 presidential contenders. The Associated Press and Rueters did not cover the event due to excessive restrictions on the press. Unfortunately, this has become prevalent at the local level too, when “multiple candidates” made demands of the Lewisville Task Force that no videography or voice recording be allowed at a public forum.
Rather than the GOP candidates, I was primarily interested in the “pollster” hired for the event, Frank Luntz. Luntz, for those of you who don’t know him, is a very smart fellow. This is a man who creates buzzwords for a living. When people started worrying about global warming, it was this guy, not a scientist or expert in the field, who invented the term “global climate change” so it wouldn’t sound as bad. He’s the guy who coined “energy exploration” instead of “oil drilling”. He was the first guy to use the term “government takeover of health care” during the debate over health care reform. It was named Politifact.com’s “Lie of the Year”.
In other words, its guys like these who invent these absurd neologisms that try to take us further and further from actual debate on specific issues. Unfortunately, these words also pervade our local council elections for the City of Lewisville. Many of those I’ve already talked about, but let’s discuss one that has been thrown around regarding the topic of illegal immigration.
As you might imagine, misinformation on this subject is everywhere. Firstly, I’d absolutely recommend checking out The City of Lewisville’s Frequently Asked Questions Page on Illegal Immigration. The page could use some updating in certain areas, but it does address many of the issues that have been brought up in this campaign.
The term I’d like to discuss today is ”Sanctuary City”.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that both Mike McCary (running for Place 1 on the Lewisville City Council) and Steve Hill (running for Place 3) consider Lewisville to be a “sanctuary city”. When asked “What is an uncomfortable truth about your city that voters must confront?” on the Dallas Morning News Voter Guide, Steve Hill replied:
Lewisville is effectively a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants.
Mike McCary has also used the phrase repeatedly:
In the Dallas Morning News Voter Guide, he referred to Lewisville’s “sanctuary city status”, as if it is an official designation. He also referred to this “status” at at the Lewisville Task Force forum.
We’re faced with two major questions: Firstly, what exactly is a “sanctuary city”? and secondly, is Lewisville a “sanctuary city”?
There is no official or legal definition for the term “sanctuary city”. There is no official federal or state designation or status as a “sanctuary city”. There is no de jure definition. The phrase does not occur in the U.S. Code. The only mention of sanctuaries in the Texas code or Constitution is in regard to animal habitats.
Originally, during the 1980s, certain major cities began designating themselves as “sanctuary cities”, basing the idea on churches that created “sanctuaries” for Central American refugees. The idea was simple: these cities created ordinances that explicitly denied the police the ability to establish immigration status of a person. The objective was to make sure that illegal immigrants wouldn’t fear deportation if they reported a crime or cooperated in an investigation, but I can certainly see how people would be opposed to this idea. There are relatively few municipalities that still have explicit “sanctuary” laws.
Let’s skip forward a few years. In 2006, the Congressional Research Service released a report that, in a footnote, designated 32 municipalities as “sanctuary cities” (page 26, 30 of the pdf). More importantly, it redefined the term. Instead of having an explicit restriction on city employees (including police) to look up immigration status,
most cities that are considered sanctuary cities have adopted a “don’t ask-don’t tell” policy where they don’t require their employees, including law enforcement officers, to report to federal officials aliens who may be illegally present in the country.
So far, we have two definitions of the term: the classical definition that defines a “sanctuary city” as a city that explicitly prohibits police from looking up immigration status and the CRS definition, which states that a “sanctuary city” is one that implictly allows illegal immigration not through actual policy but by a “don’t ask-don’t tell” system wherein police may not be prohibited from researching immigration status but the check never happens de facto.
So does Lewisville meet either of these definitions? In other words, does the City of Lewisville either a) prohibit police officers explicitly from looking up the immigration status of someone arrested or b) does it implicitly “allow” illegal immigration by not looking up immigration status?
No. There is obviously no Lewisville law or ordinance that prevents police officers from searching for immigration status, nor is there any implicit prohibition against it. As a matter of fact, straight from the City of Lewisville FAQ I linked to earlier:
For many years, we have worked cooperatively with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to identify criminal offenders wanted by the federal government for immigration or other charges. The Lewisville Police Department is currently screening every person arrested and admitted to the city jail to assess their citizenship/immigration status. If we are unable to determine their legal status, we call ICE and request a review of their records and databases. ICE may interview the individual and may issue a detainer for that individual, in which case they are held for transfer to ICE custody. Illegal offenders charged with serious state crimes will normally remain in local or state custody until trial. If ICE does not issue a detainer for a person, then we have no choice but to process them through the justice system as with any other arrestee.
In other words, using the two most common definitions of the phrase, Lewisville would not be considered a “sanctuary city”.
But let’s consider a third definition: any city that does not enact extreme immigration enforcement ordinances, such as those in Farmers Branch, or that does not participate in the 287(g) program is a “sanctuary city”. If that’s your definition, then almost every city in the United States qualifies. According to the U.S. Census of Governments from 2002, there are 19,429 municipal governments in the United States (page vi, 7 of the pdf). According to the 287(g) fact sheet, only 69 agencies participate in the 287(g) program and only three are in Texas. That leaves us with about 19,360 “sanctuary cities” under this definition.
This issue is also statewide. One of Governor Rick Perry’s “emergency items” to pass this legislative session was to “abolish sanctuary cities” from Texas. State Representative Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, introduced House Bill 12, the primary bill regarding this issue, which the House debated today from 2:20 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. before it was sent back to committee. The bill makes clear that any city government that creates the explicit rules mentioned in the first definition will lose all state funds.
There are two major ironies here: the first is that the text of the bill does not actually include the phrase “sanctuary cities” or anything of the sort, which is ironic considering it’s supposedly the bill that will “abolish” them. Secondly, this bill had previously been brought up at a Committee on State Affairs meeting on March 2nd. During that meeting, the following exchange between Solomons, the bill’s author, and Rene Oliveira, Democrat from Brownsville, happened:
OLIVEIRA: “I will be crystal clear with you, too. I am opposed to sanctuary cities, but I still don’t know if one exists. If you find one that exists, I’d love to hear it.”
SOLOMONS: “Based on what I’ve read, we don’t have any, so I don’t know what the big deal is.”
OLIVEIRA: “Then we don’t need the bill, I guess.”
SOLOMONS: “Well, I think we need the bill because enough people perceive, enough people perceive, that this is a problem. And so in context, we probably ought to ensure that we have a uniform, consistent policy in the State of Texas about this. That’s the public purpose of it, in connection with what the governor’s office is talking about, what Senator Williams is talking about, what papers are talking about, what almost everybody is talking about.”
Wait, so let me get this straight: the author of an “emergency” bill agrees that not only do we not have a “sanctuary city” problem but “we don’t have any” sanctuary cities, and we need to get this bill passed simply because people “perceive” it as a problem?
Folks, I’m interested in facts, not casual observations. Illegal immigration is obviously an important issue facing this country. But seriously, don’t let local candidates like Mike McCary and Steve Hill demean our city by constantly referring to it as a “sanctuary city”, when in reality the phrase is simply a buzzword. Don’t let men like these bifurcate this issue into those who are “against” or “for” illegal immigration, because clearly things are not that simple. I have no problem with someone who has a different opinion than mine, but I want that opinion to be based on objective definitions, not just saying what they think people want to hear.