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Non-cooperation is good governing

What Congressional Republicans fail to realize is that, until they address the federal immigration laws that forced these municipal governments to enact…

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Congressional Republicans are currently threatening to punish Philadelphia and other sanctuary cities their non-cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by withholding Homeland Security grant funding. Just last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of the block. If ultimately passed into law, this bill would reduce millions in funding meant to prevent acts of terrorism in our country’s most populous metropolises, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, D.C and New York City.  Through some gross twist of logic, the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee is responding to the San Francisco tragedy by threatening to make America's largest cities less safe.

Cities are at the epicenter of our nation’s broken immigration system. Lacking any real authority to affect the status of the hundreds of thousands of undocumented persons living within their borders, municipal governments are still faced with the urgent need to integrate these individuals into their workplaces and legal system. One does not need to be a public policy expert to understand that is nearly impossible to effectively run a city when a large segment of the population has no legal path out of poverty or fears the police too much to report violent crimes.

In recent years, the United States’ largest cities have attempted to address these issues, in part, through sanctuary city policies. As a Philadelphia City Councilman, I joined my colleagues in calling for an end to our city’s compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests in February of 2014.  At the time, the federal government could request that the City detain an individual for up to 48 hours without any proof of their illegal immigration status. Today, Philadelphia no longer holds undocumented offenders who have not committed first or second degree felonies, unless ICE obtains a judicial warrant. If I am elected mayor in November, that policy will continue. 

What Congressional Republicans fail to realize is that, until they address the federal immigration laws that forced these municipal governments to enact sanctuary city policies in the first place, non-cooperation with ICE is simply good governing. Full cooperation discourages immigrants from calling the police when they are in danger or from cooperating with local investigations that would reduce violent crime. San Francisco, for example, has a comparably lower murder rate than those cities without sanctuary city policies. And, even after the city amended its sanctuary policy two years ago to become more lenient towards repeat immigrant offenders, San Francisco’s homicides continued to drop the next year by 3 percent.

Full cooperation with ICE is also not a cost-effective crime fighting strategy. While the cooperation policy is based on the assumption that every suspected undocumented immigrant poses a significant statistical threat to society, the facts simply do not bear that out. Between 1990 and 2013, our country’s unauthorized immigrant population more than tripled, from 3.5 million to 11.2 million, but during these same years, the FBI reported a 48 percent decrease in violent crime and a 41 percent decrease in property crime. A 2010 Census Bureau study also found that native-born males without a high school diploma were three times as likely to be incarcerated for a violent crime than less educated males from Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the three countries of origin from which the majority of undocumented individuals come. Even ignoring the cost of civil rights lawsuits that could result, full cooperation with ICE puts a significant strain on police time and resources that keeps relatively few violent criminals off the street.

The tragedy in San Francisco should be a call to action, but the GOP’s current focus is misplaced. Until we address our gun control laws, poverty crisis and the other myriad of factors that lead someone to act violently, gun deaths at the hands of criminals, no matter their immigration status, will be a reality in municipalities across our country. That is a tragedy, but we cannot compound it by allowing a policy based more in fear than in fact to further erode the trust between community and police. Now is the time to examine the flaws in our federal immigration system that gave birth to sanctuary cities in the first place. 

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