Debate Forum: 12/19

Can he do that?

Should sanctuary city government decision makers be sued under federal law?

By Sarah Sidlow

If you’re planning on riding out the holidays without having a political conversation, we salute you. But if you can’t avoid it, or if you’re that guy at the office party who likes to stir the soup, we’ve got you covered.

You’ve probably heard of sanctuary cities, but if you need a quick refresher, it goes something like this: A sanctuary city is a city that limits its cooperation with the national government effort to enforce immigration law. It’s a little bit of a legal grey area—some people argue that sanctuary cities are breaking the law by not complying with federal immigration law; others shrug and say, “it’s not that we aren’t doing our job, it’s that we aren’t doing it well.”

But the crux of the issue is about the people in the sanctuary cities—and whether or not those people are breaking more laws than just ones about citizenship.

The issue has recently been reignited over the acquittal of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant involved in the shooting death of San Francisco native Kathryn Steinle. (Zarate did shoot and kill Steinle, but the jury found him not guilty of murder and manslaughter charges because they couldn’t find enough proof of the shooting being intentional.)

A lot of people weren’t too happy with that answer—including President Donald Trump, who called the verdict a “travesty of justice.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions added he would “ensure that all jurisdictions place the safety and security of their communities above the convenience of criminal aliens.”

Cue the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, a bill under consideration in Congress which could soon make it possible to bring legal action against sanctuary city officials. The bill, which passed the House this summer and is awaiting action in the Senate, would empower certain victims of crimes committed by illegal aliens to sue the sanctuary jurisdictions housing the perpetrator.

So, should sanctuary city officials be on the hook for crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in their communities?

A lot of people say yes.

For starters, city officials typically have to swear an oath upon beginning their time in office in which they solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States, the laws of their state, and the local ordinances relevant to their positions.

To this point, many argue that the Constitution is pretty clear about the whole immigration thing—and that by turning a blind eye to undocumented communities in their cities, sanctuary city officials open up a wormhole for crime without consequence. And if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re probably part of the problem.

Yet for others, typically those in support of sanctuary cities, the idea of suing a city official is just a big ball of misdirected energy.

Another lawsuit doesn’t un-do a crime that has been committed, and it certainly doesn’t fix the nation’s broken immigration system. Instead, those resources should be put into the community for citizenship classes, education campaigns and community improvement projects. Also, if you don’t want to live in a sanctuary city, you really don’t have to.

No sanctuary for criminals

Sanctuary cities put political correctness above public safety

By Don Hurst


Victims of sanctuary city policies should be allowed to sue the officials who willfully failed to protect them. The representatives of these cities, who bestow excessive rights on criminals at the expense of public safety, betray their oaths to the Constitution and their citizens while violating criminal statutes. Suing in civil court is actually a very moderate, modest punishment since private citizens who obstruct justice and willfully harbor illegal aliens would risk jail time.

The No Sanctuary Act that the House of Representatives recently passed does not attack sanctuary cities just because they flagrantly disregard the law. The law does not require cities to conduct Sheriff Arpaio-style round-ups of brown people without papers. They don’t even have to cooperate with federal law enforcement raids of employers hiring illegals. The bill only allows victims to sue if they were victims of a crime perpetrated by an illegal who these sanctuary cities arrested for a crime, and released despite lawful federal detainers.

The No Sanctuary for Criminals Law carves out reasonable middle ground between an open-border free-for-all and forced expulsion of anyone with dubious legal status. Federal authorities only issue these warrants when local law enforcement arrests an illegal who has committed another crime. Deporting criminals should not be something we have to debate. “Dreamers” and impoverished people fleeing their corrupt, broken countries encourage sympathy, but the criminals are drains on our economy and hazards to public safety.

Jose Zarate, the man who shot and killed Kate Steinle in San Francisco, and catalyst for this law, was not an immigrant in search of a better life. He was a career-criminal with seven felony convictions, mainly revolving around possessing and manufacturing heroin. You know, heroin, the substance that’s been wiping out Ohio. ICE had deported him five times, only for Zarate to keep sneaking into this country to deal more drugs. When San Francisco ignored the lawful ICE detainer, he was awaiting trial for felony marijuana possession and distribution.

Zarate is just one example. In the past 19 months, sanctuary cities disregarded over 17,000 ICE detainers. Our country could have 17,000 less criminals in it today without these misguided policies.

The real issue isn’t immigration. The deeper problem is the precedent of allowing city officials to choose which laws they want to enforce. This idea erodes law and order that is necessary for our country to thrive.

What sanctuary cities are saying is that the legislative process doesn’t matter. These officials subvert our elaborate system of checks and balances that prevents odious laws from existing. One federal judge in Hawaii put the brakes on President Trump’s travel ban for months until the Supreme Court had an opportunity to review it. One judge is all it took. It’s an amazing mechanism that, while frustrating at times, helps prevent abusive laws from surviving.

Our current immigration laws have withstood several legal challenges. Federal courts have upheld them as aligning with the Constitution. Through their actions, sanctuary cities claim that these checks and balances aren’t good enough. We can disregard what we choose. That’s a dangerous game. If these court-upheld, legislature laws aren’t worthy to be followed, then why should we follow any laws?

Sanctuary cities are also saying that individual conscience supersedes constitutionally upheld consensus. Our statutes represent what the majority believes to be right. Laws prevent Christian conservative sheriffs from arresting doctors who perform abortions. Laws prevent sharia advocates from beating adulterers. Laws prevent racist judges from denying marriage certificates to mixed race couples.

An America where the police arrest abortion doctors sounds crazy, but there is no logical difference between these scenarios. Cherry picking the laws we enforce sounds great until others disregard the laws with which we agree. If liberals are fine with sanctuary cities, then they better prepare for cities that terminate the employment of transgendered and don’t allow same-sex marriages.

Sanctuary cities’ disobedience is especially egregious considering they have lawful mechanisms to fight federal immigration policies. They can supply public defenders to represent illegal immigrants during deportation proceedings. They can provide advocates to assist with the lawful immigration process.

They are smart people, I’m sure they can figure out a better method for reforming immigration than just breaking the current laws.

Sanctuary city policies create an environment that encourages crime; not just from illegal aliens, but all citizens. Disregarding small problems leads to more major issues. Rape culture is a good example of this. By allowing sexually suggestive language in the workplace, groping, and unwelcome sexual advances, we create a toxic atmosphere that lends itself to sexual assault. The same is true with all crimes. As a resident of a city led by officials who publically, flagrantly break the law, I am encouraged to ignore the law as well. I watched my elected representatives get praised for their stance. I don’t see them get punished. They lost the moral high ground to judge me for my crimes. After all, laws don’t matter when I act according to my conscience.

No matter what your stance on the immigration issue, we cannot abandon the legislative process. Checks and balances are what keep our country from devolving into a dictatorship. The executive branch, whether it be national or local, must never be so powerful that it can choose which laws apply.

Not our problem

Federal laws or city laws?

By Patrick Bittner


Throughout the relatively short history of this relatively great nation, an ongoing debate has raged regarding the ability of the government, in general, to create and carry out laws it deems fit. From our declaration that tyranny is unacceptable, to our Federalist Papers arguing for a stronger federal government, the brightest minds in our society have debated the method which would be best for us to follow. The legal experts decided that the best way to achieve a working system of government, was to create a distinct but also vague hierarchy. The cities are allowed to make laws if the county doesn’t, the county is allowed to make laws if the state doesn’t, and the state is allowed to make laws if the federal government doesn’t. This system, called federalism, is the fundamental basis for the culture we share. To disrupt this order would be to create chaos and fundamentally undermine the system of government we have used for over 200 years. To truly understand what is at stake here, one must first understand what is being asked. The heart of the matter is better understood in a blunter manner; should sanctuary cities be punished by the federal government for providing protection, in any form, to illegal immigrants? The only answer to this is a resounding no. And the simplest explanation can be found in the legal traditions of our society. The federal government cannot punish a city, or any lesser government, for not following a law that in reality does not exist. It is better to understand this by looking at a specific case, in this scenario, the City of Dayton.

Late last year, the country was rattled with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. And while we all sat in awe as the roller coaster that is his administration took off on its wild ride, serious legal and cultural ramifications were being put in place. The hardline that Mr. Trump and his staff took on immigration was a key selling point for many of his voters, and arguably created the biggest talking point of the election. The border wall, deportation, and the lack of direction when it came to dreamers created a whirlwind of promises, executive action, and otherwise fascist rhetoric that energized and polarized his base and, indeed, the entire country. This culminated in the signing of a number of executive orders that were intended to punish cities or states that did not explicitly follow and enforce the immigration laws set forth by the federal government. The problem is, those laws are specifically reserved for the federal government. No city, county, or state law enforcement agency is legally able to enforce federal immigration law, as it is the explicit prevue of the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

So, when the Dayton Daily News reported in February that the City of Dayton was mandating its police officers not detain, interview, or stop individuals simply because their immigration status may be in question, the federal government had no legal oversight to punish the City of Dayton for breaking federal law. Simply put, the federal government cannot punish a city for not enforcing immigration law because currently, a large portion of that law is not legally able to be enforced by the city government.

And while the tweets fly and the city on the hill burns, the true issue here is going unaddressed. Illegal immigration, while drastically misunderstood and under-realized in our area, is a real concern for a lot of Americans. In the Midwest, our industries were lost largely, not to foreign people, but to automation and, although we are seeing an influx of immigrants, the change is slower in our area than in other parts of the country. However, the fundamental issue that people forget when proposing things like border walls and police investigations into immigration status, is that the people, and they are people first and foremost, are not seeking to destroy the American way of life, they are looking to enhance it. And that idea alone, perhaps more than any other, is what has shaped the heart and soul of this country for the better part of two centuries. If the Federal government wants to expend countless man-hours and taxpayer dollars to enforce policies that are antiquated and seemingly ineffective, let them, but that burden should not be passed to the cities unless it is made into a law. Because where the Federal government is faceless and misunderstood, the people that are moving into our communities are not, and they should be treated as the living and breathing people that they are.


Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at

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