A “sanctuary city” is a municipality that chooses not to cooperate, and actually subvert, federal immigration law. In the 1950’s and 60’s southern states adopted such a stance toward civil rights laws. Those states defiantly announced their “massive resistance” to federal authority, simply refused to implement Brown v. Board of Education, refused to register black voters or allow black students to enroll in public universities. This led to high-profile federal intervention by the Army and National Guard, busing, and endless lawsuits by the U.S. Department of Justice against these states and their political subdivisions. It took forty more years, but eventually, the southern states relented and fully enforced federal laws requiring racial equality.
Most major American cities from Los Angeles beginning in 1979, to Boston have done much the same thing with regard to federal immigration enforcement. They have openly declared themselves sanctuaries for illegal immigrants where no questions about citizenship status will be tolerated. Chicago’s Municipal Code, for example, provides that “No agent or agency shall request information about or otherwise investigate or assist in the investigation of the citizenship or residency status of any person unless such inquiry or investigation is required by Illinois State Statute, federal regulation, or court decision.” Chicago Mun. Code sec. 2-173-020. One of the first acts Mayor Richard Daley undertook upon his election in 1989 was to sign an Executive Order 89-6 requiring “equal access by all persons residing in the City… regardless of nation of birth or current citizenship, to the full benefits, opportunities and services… which are provided or administered by the City.” Thus, illegal immigrants are treated as citizens here, costing the taxpayers millions of dollars a year. This is what a sanctuary city means in the real world.
Perhaps if Chicago were its own nation, it could, make the decision to open its borders to all and provide them with full public benefits. But immigration law is set by the federal government, as the Obama Administration makes very clear in suing Arizona. If Arizona should not be allowed to enforce federal immigration law, then why should Chicago be allow to subvert it? Another section of the Chicago ordinance goes so far as to declare that “Where presentation of an Illinois driver’s license or identification card is accepted as adequate evidence of identity, presentation of a photo matricula consular (consulate-issued document) shall be accepted and shall not subject the person to a higher level of scrutiny…” Id., sec. 040. So Chicago is saying that illegal immigrants can use their consulate- issued “matricula cards,” easily obtained from the giant Mexican consulate in the City, in place of a legally-issued drivers’ license. Does this mean federal Transportation Safety workers at O’Hare airport must accept the matricula card when presented by passengers? Can illegal immigrants present the matricula card as an acceptable form of identification when entering federal or State of Illinois buildings and to apply for federal benefits? What a legal mess the City has created! In a way, it’s a lot like Governor George Wallace standing in the the schoolhouse door in 1963 to block blacks from entering the University of Alabama. Can Chicago take immigration policy into its own hands, i.e., subvert it? Subvert is not too strong a word in light of a federal law enacted in 1996 prohibiting local and state governments from providing “public benefits” to most legally admitted immigrants and all illegal immigrants. 8 U.S.C. sec. 1621. Chicago’s law is inconsistent with the federal policy and is therefore “preempted” (unenforceable).
The U.S. Department of Justice should sue to block enforcement of these Chicago ordinances. They directly conflict with federal law, unlike the Arizona law, which is consistent with it. Attorney General Eric Holder stated, “Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility. Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves.” The Attorney General did not elaborate as to how Arizona’s law would “create problems.” What’s the problem if it is consistent with federal law? But Chicago’s ordinance could plainly create problems in the ways I’ve detailed: it encourages illegal immigrants to move to the city to receive public benefits to which they are not entitled, thereby burdening the taxpayers, the acceptance of the matricula card as a form of identification could lead to terrorists or other criminals boarding planes, trains and entering secure buildings, and it may make it more difficult for federal authorities to identify illegal immigrants. Yet the administration (and that’s true for the Bush DOJ) has done nothing about sanctuary cities with similar unconstitutional and unenforceable ordinances on the books.
We would not tolerate this overt resistence with regard to any other type of crime. Imagine the public reaction if Chicago suddenly declared that it would not cooperate with federal officials investigating drug criminals. The public would be justifiably outraged, the non-enforcement ordinance would be front page news all over the country, and it would be repealed. Why does the public tolerate this?