This week, Houston joined a legal challenge by several other Texas cities and nonprofits to S.B. 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott last month.
The law, they charge, is unconstitutional, “dangerous” to residents, will encourage racial profiling and discourage undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes.
The law’s supporters contend its requirement that local law enforcement cooperate with federal immigration officials is hardly unreasonable — shouldn’t they be doing that anyway? — and that the only people who should fear the provision that allows local officers to inquire about immigration status during a lawful detention or arrest are criminals.
The law could stand improvement — some members of law enforcement have valid concerns about resource allocation and maintaining already fragile ties with immigrant communities, for example — but it is hardly the “show me your papers” edict opponents claim.
Still, each side in this argument sees the other as promoting some kind of legal chaos.
It’s the same debate conservatives and liberals have been having for years, except the opposing parties are now much further apart.
I’m old enough to remember a time when conservatives and liberals agreed on some overarching principles about immigration policy; that it has economic and cultural benefits but also costs; that strong enforcement of existing laws is not mutually exclusive of developing a path to citizenship for those already here.
But what opposing sides now seek to achieve in the debate over immigration policy has changed dramatically.
And despite the prevailing narrative that says otherwise, conservatives aren’t the only ones to blame.
If conservatives have drifted further right when it comes to immigration enforcement, liberals have gone further left, mainstreaming policy stances once held only by extreme activists.
Writing in The Atlantic, Peter Beinart makes this point.
To illustrate he recalls the Democratic platform from 2008 which “called undocumented immigrants ‘our neighbors.’ But it also warned, ‘We cannot continue to allow people to enter the United States undetected, undocumented, and unchecked,’ adding that ‘those who enter our country’s borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of the law.’ By 2016, such language was gone,” he notes.
Beinart, himself a liberal, cites prominent like-minded writers and politicians — including then Sen. Barack Obama — who once acknowledged the economic, cultural and legal burdens undocumented workers place on American society.
These are perspectives none would admit to possessing now.
Politics, of course, is at the heart of the left’s “evolution” on immigration.
Democrats have seen a path to long-term electoral success in the nation’s growing Hispanic population and have been willing to accept the agendas of immigrant advocacy groups as their own, even when they are outside of the mainstream.
In February, for example, before an audience of immigrant advocates, the Dallas County commissioners adopted a “welcoming communities resolution on a party-line vote of 4-1, which calls for local law enforcement to “end nonessential collaborations” with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The resolution is not legally binding, but the message to immigrants is clear: Federal laws do not apply here. Remember which party has your back when you’re eligible to vote.
Resolutions like this affirm for conservatives that their liberal counterparts are not at all serious about enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. So they see a need for states like Texas to pass and enforce laws of their own — laws like S.B. 4 which carries heavy penalties for any municipality or leader trying to adopt a “sanctuary cities” policy.
There is no question our nation’s immigration system needs fixing. But we first have to agree on some basic principles about what our policy should achieve.
If S.B. 4 and Dallas’ “welcoming communities resolution” are indicators, it won’t happen any time soon.