Haven and hell

Forum Center: What’s the deal with sanctuary cities?

By Sarah Sidlow

Recent events in San Francisco have rendered the phrase “sanctuary city” downright buzzworthy. Last week, a widely publicized funeral was held for Kathryn Steinle. Why? Because 32-year-old Steinle was shot and killed on a pier in San Francisco. And? Her accused killer, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a repeat felon, had already been deported five times. Luckily for Sanchez, San Francisco is a “sanctuary city,” where undocumented immigrants are not turned over to federal authorities after they are released.

Steinle’s death has inspired proposals both in California’s legislature and in Congress for laws that would force local governments to cooperate with the feds on immigration—something San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance basically prohibits.

Basically, a sanctuary city shelters illegal immigrants—either explicitly by law, or loosely by force of habit—by not allowing municipal funds to be used to enforce federal immigration laws. Usually, this means police or municipal employees are not permitted to inquire about an individual’s immigration status. In San Francisco’s case, the policy has been amended to protect even repeat felons like Lopez-Sanchez, who had an outstanding federal deportation order.

There are some 276 sanctuary cities in the United States, according to a recent report by The Center for Immigration Studies. Those cities have released over 8,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records or facing charges despite federal requests that they be turned over to ICE for deportation (that’s in the last eight months). There’s more: according to Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies for the center and the author of the report, many of those illegals have been rearrested after their release and charged with nearly 7,500 new charges, including child sex abuse.

For many, breaking the law of the land by entering and residing in the U.S. without going through the proper channels is a cut-and-dry decision: you’re out; do not pass go. Many also claim illegal residents are responsible for introducing violence and illegal drugs into communities.

GOP presidential candidates are calling for an end to sanctuary cities, claiming their policies of ignoring federal immigration law create a dangerous environment for, like, everyone. Moreover, some say, in a sanctuary city, it’s possible for an illegal immigrant to actually report to the police.

But proponents of sanctuary cities caution that one bad apple shouldn’t upset the whole cart. The San Francisco killer shouldn’t represent millions of other illegal immigrants, many of whom contribute much to America’s communities. There’s a reason, they say, sanctuary city laws are popular. Evidence may suggest that these laws make cities safer for everyone—not just illegal immigrants. In San Francisco alone, the murder rate has fallen to its lowest level in decades, despite its enactment of sanctuary law 26 years ago, and the amendment in 2013 that extended the cover to repeat felons like Lopez-Sanchez.

Other proponents of sanctuary cities cite the phenomenon that the more police are involved in immigration crack-downs, the less trusting the relationship between citizens and the law tends to be.

Dayton Police have clarified that Dayton is not a “sanctuary city,” but is in fact a real haven for immigrants seeking assistance and community. The Welcome Dayton initiative has been touted as the leading model in community awareness and open doors, but immigration law is taken seriously. Basically, discretion is used on a case-by-case basis: policies are in place stating that ICE is not to be contacted in certain types of cases, but red flags like a violent felony, a drug trafficking felony or a threat to national security are reasons to call in for federal backup.

Remember those Congressional proposals we mentioned earlier? One such proposal by Rep. Duncan Hunter, of California, would exclude cities like Dayton from certain Department of Justice grants, for not aggressively enforcing immigration law.

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at Editor@DaytonCityPaper.com


Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Should sanctuary cities exist?


Debate Left: There’s something else going on

Response By Ben Tomkins

A large part of what makes dealing with illegal immigration difficult is that it is legally a federal issue that must be dealt with in terms of law enforcement policy on the state level and then often executed by officers operating on the local level. It’s a giant cluster of overlapping legal and communication variations that divide and muddle virtually every aspect of immigration enforcement.

The extremes are well known. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can expect crazy, over-the-top actions in Arizona, which will cause them a billion legal headaches at the end of the day, and on the other end of the spectrum, we have the so-called “sanctuary cities” like Denver, Washington D.C. and San Francisco.

Personally, I don’t have any problem with the idea of sanctuary cities. Since immigration is under federal jurisdiction, it should be their job—along with state agencies—to deal with it. Once you start encouraging local authorities to Terry stop Hispanics and force every Puerto Rican who ends up at the station for smelling like someone else’s weed to sit in a cell until their relatives can produce a passport, we’re going to have a judicial stroke from the civil rights cholesterol blocking the legal arteries of our local, state and federal courts.

It’s already difficult enough to deal with immigration policy variations from state to state, and as soon as local entities start enforcing things using their own policies based on cultural and social initiative, it’s going to become absolutely impossible to have a Constitution and an equitable judicial construct coexist.

Many would love to blame the murder of Kate Steinle on San Francisco’s unofficial status as a sanctuary city. If you like the latent racist within you who Donald Trump validates every time he opens his mouth, this has probably made for excellent and vociferous dinner conversation.

I have to admit that I knew very little of the story of Kate Steinle being shot on the San Francisco pier by a Mexican illegal immigrant named Francisco Sanchez. What I did find out very quickly is that we were dealing with an individual who was a five-time deportee on parole in Texas who did time in federal prison for immigration violations—someone who made a career out of crime. Kate Steinle was a white woman in her early 30s, and a very attractive one at that. I cannot find a single article anywhere that doesn’t have the identical picture of her with beaming smile and pretty blonde hair, and her tan certainly isn’t that orange spray-on insanity that Donald Trump has applied with a paint gun every three days.

The reason I mention Trump is because, without his ignorant blathering about most immigrants being rapists and murderers exported by the Mexican government so the American criminal justice system can deal with them, this story wouldn’t have anything to do with sanctuary cities at all—that and a pretty white woman being murdered by, gee, I guess, anybody. (I don’t get what this is trying to say…)

I will point out that I am well aware what I am saying has nothing to do with sanctuary cities, despite the fact that when Sanchez was asked if he went to San Francisco specifically because if was a sanctuary city he replied “yes.”

That would seem about as definitive as it gets. The reality is it actually explains absolutely nothing about why this happened and blows off every other federal and state failing that had been occurring for years before he even got there.

Sanchez is a drug dealer who had already been deported five times, for which he was on probation in Texas, at the time of the shooting. Five times. Before we even begin blaming San Francisco’s social policies for Steinle’s death, let’s just back up and ask—being extremely generous—“What would we have said if he shot someone somewhere else before he was deported the fifth, fourth or third time?”

Clearly local and/or state authorities collaborating with the Feds didn’t stop him from getting back in, and we’re dealing with a hardened criminal.

The fact that he shot a woman in San Francisco has nothing to do whatsoever with local authorities refusing to check into his background—he was already in custody. He’d been to Oregon and Washington for work before, but he’d also been in borderline-xenophobic Phoenix. He was deported from all of those places, and he still just kept coming back. Landing in San Francisco is just a question of, as they say in prison, real estate.

I hate to have to say it so bluntly, but if a woman in San Francisco is shot by a five-time deportee with a criminal record as long as my arm, the problem isn’t sanctuary cities. San Francisco is not exactly directly across the border, nor are Denver, Salt Lake City or Detroit. By the time a sociopath gets that far, all they’ve demonstrated is how woefully and pathetically inadequate our federal and state practices and policies are at stopping them from going anywhere they want in the first place. While local authorities can certainly help, their information should be distributed from above, not discovered on the initiative of the varying personal policies of every police officer who walks the streets.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at


Debate Right: Immigration clearly a sole federal issue

Response By Rob Scott

The United States is truly a nation of immigrants. Almost all Americans, with the exception of Native Americans, are products of immigration. Personally, I descend from Irish, Scottish, English, German immigrants and have some lineage to Native America.

When the U.S. was open to immigration and anyone could come into the country, it was a different world-era. Most immigrants came to the U.S. for the dream of success and prosperity. Fortunately, most that came achieved that dream and helped make the nation we enjoy today.

In today’s age, with the changing world and the threat of global terrorism, security is a large issue for the U.S., and the Open Door Policy has changed. However, many could argue the current administration and policy of the U.S. has stayed the same due to border control: The ease of crossing illegally between the border of the U.S. and Mexico, and even Canada, remains.

Immigration into the U.S. is the jurisdiction of the federal government. However, as the federal government struggles to find a consensus on immigration reform, a host of cities have passed ordinances or implemented policies ordering local police and other public employees not to ask about a person’s immigration status. Local government is on the ground floor dealing with the illegal immigration issue—and has differing policies.

Localities with these policies are referred to as “sanctuary cities,” and, according to the independent think tank Migration Policy Institute (MPI), there are now hundreds of them in the U.S.

For example, many local governments have a policy stating that their police departments will not detain a person solely based on the belief that the individual is an illegal immigrant, and officers will not ask about legal status unless a person is arrested.

These localities are essentially giving safe haven to persons in the country illegally creating, among other issues, a homeland security threat. As an example, five of the 9-11 hijackers had immigration violations. And more recently, it was discovered that three members of the plot to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey were illegal immigrants.

Jack Martin, special projects director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), says these policies are inadvisable because they create conditions that attract illegal residents to a community. He adds the presence of a large illegal population “provides a camouflage within which criminal or terrorist elements may operate without detection.”

Most problematic, sanctuary cities are contravening federal law. According to Muzaffar Chishti, director of the MPI’s office at New York University School of Law, although the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act bans localities from prohibiting employees from sharing immigration information with the federal government, “in most of these [sanctuary city] ordinances, the prohibition is only against asking.” Chishti also says most of the policies have exceptions for police dealing with certain crimes.

To close that loophole, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) proposed an amendment to the pending immigration bill that would have required local law enforcement to ask suspected illegal immigrants their status, making policies like San Francisco’s illegal. The amendment was defeated by one vote.

Police departments, though mindful of the importance of immigration laws, have reasons for supporting policies that prohibit asking about immigration status. According to Rasmussen Report’s national telephone survey, “Sixty-two percent of Likely U.S. Voters think the U.S. Justice Department should take legal action against cities that provide sanctuary for illegal immigrants.”

Only 26 percent of likely voters oppose such an action and 12 percent are undecided. In fact, 58 percent think the federal government should cut off funds to cities that give safe haven to illegal aliens, while 32 percent disagree. Because of this, local jurisdictions provide their own policies on how to handle the illegal immigration issues.

There are millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S., and that issue must be addressed. The upcoming presidential election certainly will be a hot bed of discussion on this issue. A legal path to citizenship should be established for them, nearly identical to the one everyone currently getting citizenship is required to do. However, blanket mass citizenship should not be provided either.

Finally, local government should handle the illegal immigrant issue following federal law and policies. Though the federal government has not made a concise decision on illegal immigrants, there are policies in place prohibiting what local governments are doing. Providing sanctuary for illegal immigrants, therefore, should not be condoned or encouraged by local governments.


Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or gemcitylaw.com.

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