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BRIAN KIERAN
BRIAN KIERAN

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to cut all federal funding to sanctuary cities in his first 100 days in office. A “sanctuary city” is a city in the United States which has adopted a policy of shielding undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them solely because they violated immigration laws whenever they have an encounter with government or the criminal justice system.

That protection encourages undocumented people to cooperate with law enforcement and become engaged in the society that they hope one day will accept them. It generally makes them better members of society and protects them from people who prey on them due to their vulnerable status.

Municipal governments have labeled themselves “sanctuary cities” since the 1980s when L.A. prohibited police officers from inquiring about the immigration status of arrested defendants.

There are more than 35 sanctuary cities in the U.S. including New York. Crimes committed by undocumented immigrants pushed the “sanctuary city” issue onto the national stage and Mr. Trump owes his election success, in part, to support given due to his promises to deport undocumented immigrants and to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

A desire to punish a group may be an understandable reflexive reaction when individuals commit horrible crimes but deporting responsible and good people whose only crime is entering or remaining here will not prevent violent crimes from being committed.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 addressed the relationship between the federal government and local governments. Minor crimes, such as shoplifting, became grounds for possible deportation.

On June 16, 2007, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to a Homeland Security spending bill that would withhold federal emergency services funds from so-called “sanctuary cities.” Fifty Democrats joined the Republican representatives in support of the amendment. The amendment would have to pass in Senate to become effective.  The “sanctuary city” was a response to these laws.

President-elect Donald Trump will be the president of the United States in a little over a month and if the citizens of the United States want to say something about possible mass deportation, then the time to act and speak up is upon us. Since the presidential election, local officials in 18 major “sanctuary cities” have renewed a commitment to limit cooperation with federal immigration officials.

Critics of “sanctuary cities,” like Mr. Trump, say these policies run contrary to federal immigration law and risk releasing criminals onto the streets. The term “sanctuary city” has become a political football with people on both sides of the argument losing sight of what is most important.

If we have millions of undocumented immigrants who lead law-abiding lives and have contributed to this nation significantly and whose children are citizens, do we want to spend billions of dollars punishing them just to deport the hundreds or thousands of bad apples in the group? This nation was built on the sweat, blood and tears of immigrants, and we should be mindful of our history.

Mr. Trump’s promise to end local “home rule” resistance to draconian federal immigration policy by cutting off federal funding to a “sanctuary city” flies in the face of conservative government with less central power and more local empowerment. The threat is to nine percent of the city budget, or over $7 billion. The threat is wrong and Mr. Trump should reconsider it.

Mayor de Blasio said, “We are not going to sacrifice a half million people who live among us, who are part of our community. We are not going to tear families apart.” However, it will be hard to resist if the Republican House and Senate cooperate with a Trump initiative to punish urban areas that did not generally support the successful candidate.

City Council Member Carlos Menchaca (Sunset Park) marched to Trump Tower with community leaders and elected officials to deliver to Mr. Trump the Council’s “Sanctuary City” Resolution personally.

The new legislation calls on the federal government to respect the state and city protections that it chooses to provide to residents. “The passage of this resolution affirming that New York City will remain a ‘sanctuary city’ is an essential pledge to protect our immigrant families” according to the New York Immigration Coalition.

If New York City wants to ensure that city services are available to all residents regardless of immigration status, then it should be able to do it. It is impossible for society to provide services to people in need while attempting to document and simultaneously trying to remove them from society.

Mr. Trump should consider his options and remember that the president, not the campaign rhetoric, will decide this issue and other important questions that come up over the next four years.

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