San Antonio and the Importance of Protecting Sanctuary Cities

by Diana Negron, The Opportunity Agenda

As countless cities, counties, and states across the country pledge to be safe havens for undocumented immigrants there are equally as many pledging to harshly crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Sanctuary cities offer protection for immigrants who seek the United States in pursuit of the American Dream. The sanctuary city movement originated in the 1980s when thousands of men, women, and children from El Salvador and Guatemala fled political violence, seeking churches and synagogues to provide a safety network.

This desire to seek safety and bring opportunity into our lives connects us all. We all strive to feel safe and at home in our communities. Sanctuary cities provide protection and security to undocumented immigrants by forbidding city or law enforcement officials from working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to inquire into the immigration status of individuals. Yet the Trump administration and politicians across the country have consistently undermined the core principles that we as a country invoke for all individuals.  Our shared values of opportunity, community, and security are at risk due to this unreasonable approach to immigration.

Sanctuary cities offer protection for immigrants who seek the United States in pursuit of the American Dream.

Sanctuary cities are now considered an official threat in Texas, after Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed a law titled SB4. If this legislation takes effect as planned on Sept. 1, it would punish local authorities who refuse to collaborate with federal immigration agents. The consequences range from being removed from office to fines and up to a year in prison, if convicted. SB4 is being challenged in court by several cities in Texas including: San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Houston. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced its support for SB4 in alignment with its Executive Order to strip funding from municipalities that refuse to work with federal immigration officials.

An illustration of hands grasping one another's forearms by artist Dave Loewenstein of Just Seeds
Image courtesy of artist Dave Loewenstein from the art collective Just Seeds

As attacks on sanctuary cities continue, events in Texas are being used as gambling tokens to further encourage anti-sanctuary rhetoric.  Last weekend in San Antonio, a tractor-trailer was discovered carrying anywhere up to 200 undocumented immigrants. Most of the occupants were malnourished and suffering from heat exhaustion. Ten were pronounced dead. This tragedy shows the extremes that many will go through to escape poverty and persecution in their countries. Yet it is also being used as political bait by the Texas Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick, who is vehemently against sanctuary cities.

On social media, Lt. Gov. Patrick is pointing to the San Antonio incident as one more reason to outlaw sanctuary cities. Yet this blame is misdirected. Trying to squash out sanctuary cities will not alleviate the underlying reasons why people seek safety. In fact, making their travel and sanctuary illegal will only endanger these immigrants more, and lead to more horrible scenarios like the tragedy in San Antonio.

When our shared values of opportunity, community, and security are threatened like this, we must remember that we are all part of the solution. People move, and have always moved, to seek opportunity and a new life. We need commonsense and clear immigration policies that allow people to come to the United States in a safe way and that put them on a roadmap to citizenship. By having policies that are workable, fair, and create a reasonable immigration process for aspiring citizens, we can defend and uphold our core American values, not tear them down.

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