Columnist Jay Fleitman: Sanctuary city advocates protect criminals


Published: 04-03-2017 8:40 PM

Synonyms of sanctuary: refuge, haven, retreat, safe place, protection, asylum, shelter, hiding place, immunity from pursuers.

San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, New York, and our own Northampton and Amherst, liberal communities all, have been pledged by their political leaders to be sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. This commitment offers illegal immigrants a haven from a specific pursuer, that being the U.S.Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security.

ICE is directed by federal law to detain and deport illegal immigrants in the case of aggravated felonies, which can include crimes ranging from murder, rape, and violent crimes to racketeering, fraud, bribery, perjury, smuggling of other undocumented immigrants, or reentry into the U.S. after prior deportation for a felony.

Other grounds for deportation under federal law include drug convictions, crimes of moral turpitude, firearms convictions, domestic violence, and activities that threaten national security. DUI can be grounds for deportation if it fits in one of the above categories. The undocumented alien can be deported for overstaying a visa, committing marriage fraud, voting unlawfully or falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen.

The Department of Homeland Security is looking for Illegal immigrants who commit the above transgressions. The proponents of sanctuary cities seek to shield these same people from identification. Sanctuary cities require that their local law enforcement will not cooperate with federal efforts to detain and then deport those who fall under the above federal offenses.

One argument made for sanctuary cities is that the federal government (under both presidents Obama and Trump) has sought wholesale deportation of undocumented aliens and so this group need protection. This is “setting up a straw man.”

The bone of contention between the sanctuary community and federal immigration officials is the asking of local law enforcement to inform ICE of the arrest or release of those illegal immigrants who have committed crimes and are already in custody. This has not been about an assault on the entire population of immigrants as claimed by the supporters of sanctuary cities.

Another argument made for the protection extended to deportable illegal immigrants by sanctuary cities is that illegal immigrants do not cause any more crime than do U.S. citizens. Other than the illegal immigrant being here illegally in the first place, I agree. I believe that it is likely true that immigrants are just as law-abiding as native citizens. However, that is not the issue at all. Immigration officials are seeking out those undocumented aliens who have committed crimes, regardless of what statistical percentage of the overall population of aliens they may represent.

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It is a fundamental contention of the sanctuary city that local law enforcement should not cooperate with federal efforts to detain and deport immigrant felons out of concern that being seen to cooperate in these efforts will frighten law-abiding immigrants and make them shun local law enforcement efforts. This is a curious thought process. Should we believe that immigrant families would rather protect felons in their community who pose a threat to their families than to see them deported? I would think that the immigrant community would be less likely to help local law enforcement identify criminal activity if it is seen that the local police simply rerelease criminals right back into the community when there was the opportunity to get rid of them. Can you imagine identifying violent gang members to local authorities if you knew that the police were just putting them back on your streets?

Politicians in the sanctuary cities also defend their approach by asserting that local law enforcement dollars and resources are limited, and are better spent on local law enforcement than in helping immigration agents. I cannot imagine that rereleasing a criminal rather than communicating with federal officials is an efficient use of local resources, nor does it fulfill the responsibility of local police to protect their community.

If the local police department is really concerned about the financial cost of detaining a felon sought by immigration, then perhaps notifying federal officials while the felon is still in custody and before scheduled release would minimize extra expense.

It is also stated that it is not the job of local police to act as federal immigration agents, and that they are under no obligation to help in those efforts. Yet, it is well known that local police departments will detain criminals wanted by other states or localities and hold them until extradition is arranged. Local police do not make the case that it is not their job to help law enforcement in the other states or jurisdictions, but they cooperate in support of police efforts of those other communities with the expectation that there may be the need for reciprocity in the future. It is hard to see how this doesn’t also apply to federal immigration efforts.

In other words, if someone enters your house uninvited, and you catch them stealing your silverware, regardless of their circumstances, do you purposely frustrate the efforts of the police and have the perpetrator stay in your home with your family? Most rational people would want the criminal taken away.

If there is a greater principle here behind the sanctuary city movement, I don’t see it and I don’t get it. Sanctuary city advocates are not protecting undocumented immigrants, but they are protecting those immigrants who are criminals.

Jay Fleitman, MD, of Northampton, writes a column published the first Tuesday of the month. He can be reached at