Real Sanctuary Demands More Than Lip Service. Cities Must Step Up.

President Trump is ramping up his threats against Democrats and progressives, tweeting repeatedly over this past weekend that he plans to send detained immigrants to sanctuary cities like Chicago and New York, and to sanctuary states like California. This is a childish attempt at retaliation against his perceived political opponents — leaders and constituents who have declared their intent for their communities to be safe havens for immigrants who are tirelessly hunted down by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

While Trump may see this as some sort of punishment to Democrats, instead he is reinforcing the divide that his politics represent, and prompting our communities to step up and demand more. Leaders in 27 states across the country have rebuffed the president’s racist and xenophobic agenda, resisting this administration’s attempts to persecute migrants, asylum seekers and the Latinx community. It isn’t just the blue states that reject his cruel vision. Sanctuary sites can be found in red states that voted for Trump in 2016, including 14 counties in Iowa, 18 counties and cities in Pennsylvania, and six counties in North Carolina.

It is time to defend the right of these jurisdictions to act in solidarity with immigrants, and to demand a full realization — and expansion — of sanctuary. We have now borne witness to the cruelty of immigration enforcement under Trump, and conditions are more than likely to worsen, as they just did with Attorney General William Barr’s announcement on Tuesday that asylum seekers can be detained indefinitely instead of being released on bond. Now is the time to push sanctuary cities and counties again to be proactive and enact policies that eliminate the threat of ICE persecution from our cities and be the sanctuary that our communities need right now.

Simply refusing to comply with federal immigration investigations is far from sufficient to protect our communities and provide sanctuary. As we have seen in cases like that of Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, who was seriously injured during an ICE raid in Chicago after being falsely identified as a gang member, the current racist policing system that exists in most of these so-called sanctuary cities and counties often funnels immigrants into the detention and deportation pipeline. Over and over again, high-profile examples and data show that Black and Latinx people are far more likely to be arrested and face harsher sentences when they are arrested.

Additionally, we have found that sanctuary cities like Philadelphia and Chicago have programs or databases that share information with ICE, usually relating to criminal arrests or records. Some even turn over people to ICE specifically and openly. In the case of Catalan-Ramirez, inclusion in Chicago’s gang database stripped him of the protection of the city’s sanctuary laws, even though he had never been a member of a gang.

Trump’s actions and ongoing threats have reminded us that we are not alone. The majority of people in the U.S. support the right of asylum, the right to migrate and basic human rights. Local jurisdictions must act according to the will of the people by not only defending but also expanding what we mean by sanctuary. We can’t be content with laws and policies that pay lip service to sanctuary but leave thousands unprotected, or actively turn people over to ICE when they are subjected to criminal proceedings.

We have the power to create our own “wall” to protect our own communities, neighbors, friends and family — but the current concept of sanctuary cities and counties isn’t enough. Simply holding the line on migrant defense was never enough. We must expand our notions and practice of sanctuary to include all people, including those who are criminalized.

If Trump wants to send detained families escaping violence that threatened their lives to our towns and cities, then even more communities should stand up to offer real sanctuary, particularly when the alternative is indefinite imprisonment. By not only refusing to be conscripted into federal deportation efforts, but also refusing to participate in the criminalization of asylum seekers and people of color, local officials can move their towns toward real safety and create a line of defense against Trump’s attacks on our communities. In the face of the president’s threats, we can move the country forward and create the version of this nation that we seek, right here and now.