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What Makes a City a Sanctuary Now

“In most major cities, more than half of municipal budgets are dedicated to policing and jails”.
Legal and Policy Director for Mijente and the #Not1More Campaign. She is an undocumented organizer from Chicago, IL.
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Charlie Beck, jefe del Departamento de Policía de Los Ángeles. Crédito: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

When Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that his city would remain a “sanctuary” for immigrants, he stated “This is the same LAPD you had Monday, a week ago. We have not changed because of the election...This is not going to change the way that the Los Angeles Police Department enforces the law.”

And that is exactly the problem.

Defying Donald Trump’s mass deportation agenda and defending city residents requires more than the largely symbolic statements we’re seeing from city leaders.

In recent years, the term “sanctuary” refers to local policies that limit when and if local law enforcement communicates with or submits to (often unconstitutional) requests from federal immigration agents. But In a country where over-policing results in 1 in 3 people being arrested at least once by the age of 23, during a time when evolving technology places fingerprint scanners in the palm of every law enforcement officers’ hand, and as we anticipate the growth in federal agents active in our cities, sanctuary in practice and as a movement demand has to evolve as well.

Limiting whether police actively investigate someone’s immigration status or if immigration authorities have access to jails to do the same represents the minimum today not the standard.

In addition to local governments finding real ways to limit the federal reach into immigrant’s homes, and putting real resources into defending and protecting immigrant communities, sanctuary under Donald Trump requires cities to dismantle the current policing apparatus that acts as a funnel to incarceration and the deportation machine.

Under President Obama’s main removal program, there’s not a county in the country that deported more people than Los Angeles. At one time, the issue became so bad that dog-owners whose neighbors complained about their pets’ barking and survivors of domestic violence who called for help were arrested and turned over to ICE.

Further, in California Black people and Latinos make up 45% of the population but 85% of the persons listed in the state’s gang database, including 42 people whose names were entered before the age of one year old. Such flawed and racist databases will be one of the primary criteria used by Trump’s administration to justify who it pursues unless local governments address them.

Kris Kobach, the author of Arizona’s racial profiling bill that Trump named to his transition team, has clarified that the President-elect’s deportation force will first prioritize anyone arrested by police or accused of being a gang member.

With that clear, defending undocumented immigrants who call our cities home includes protecting them from the racialized policing exposed by the Movement for Black Lives, not just federal immigration agents on the loose and other federal enforcement practices that are normally the focus of immigrant rights groups.

It should be seen as contradictory for Mayor Garcetti to don a shirt opposing anti-immigrant Sheriff-Arpaio during his campaign visit to Arizona, just after facing a sit-in of his office over the unaddressed murder of a Black woman, Redel Jones, by Los Angeles police In fact, the same week that the police murders of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling roiled the country, law enforcement killed three more people in the Los Angeles area.

Of course, Los Angeles isn’t alone in this. Democrat Paul Penzone who is replacing Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County is inheriting a department that pulled Latino drivers over up to nine times more than anyone else.

Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel is another who is stating his commitment to a limited “sanctuary” status policy. But not only does his current policy have serious loopholes for who won’t be protected — mainly people accused or convicted of crimes or those in the gang database --, he made his proclamation alongside his announcement of also hiring 500 new police officers. In a city that has an enforcement disparity where 13 out of 15 DUI checkpoints occur in Black and Latino neighborhoods, those additional forces result in pattern and practice that runs counter to Emanuel’s pledged position.

In most major cities, more than half of municipal budgets are dedicated to policing and jails. And in many, the current resurgence of interest in sanctuary for immigrants comes after several years of the renewed effort from Black-led groups to challenge state violence and racist policing. Where possible, one should build upon, not replace the other. If sanctuary is a pledge to make our cities truly safe for their residents than there are more agencies to address than simply ICE and more people in need of refuge than solely undocumented immigrants.

A President-elect who is continuing Obama’s rhetoric of deporting “criminals” will have an easy job as long as local governments continue to criminalize Black, Latino, and poor neighborhoods. Donald Trump’s deportation pledge is part of his broader “law and order” agenda and our cities’ and our movement’s defiance of it must be broader as well.

Sanctuary as a concept can evolve and be expanded. It can be the call that unites broad swaths of institutions and civil society, but that collective protection should extend to all communities facing criminalization and persecution and defend against all the agencies that threaten us.

Disclaimer: We selected this Op-Ed to be published in our opinion section as a contribution to public debate. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author(s) and/or the organization(s) they represent and do not reflect the views or the editorial line of Univision Noticias.