Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sanctuary for Illegal Aliens Dividing GOP

Ronald Brownstein's column this morning addresses the issue of illegal immigration "sanctuary cities." Mitt Romney, one of the GOP frontrunners for the 2008 presidential nomination, has denounced these sanctuaries, and his policy proposals have generated some controversy at the top tier of the Republican field:

Let's say the 7-year-old daughter of illegal immigrants working in a big American city wakes up this morning with a high fever and a rash.

Is it in that city's interest for the little girl to receive treatment at a local public clinic or hospital? Or is that community better off if the child's parents try to treat her at home because they fear a doctor will ask about their immigration status -- and report them to the federal government if they can't prove they are here legally?

Before you answer, recall that in the 1982 Plyler vs. Doe decision, the Supreme Court ruled that children of illegal immigrants have a constitutional right to public education. That means whether or not that child is examined to determine if her illness is contagious, she will soon be back in a classroom of other 7-year-olds -- many, in all likelihood, American citizens.

In most places, for most people, this would not be a hard call. Leaving aside any question of compassion toward the girl, the community's public health is clearly served if she is treated before she infects anyone else.

Likewise, most people would agree that communities are safer if illegal immigrants who have been the victims of crime, or possess evidence that can help solve a crime, can talk to police officers without fear of being quizzed about their status. Or if illegal immigrants enroll their children in school (as the Supreme Court allowed), rather than keep them at home for fear admissions officials will investigate the parents' status.

These are the judgments that have prompted Los Angeles, New York and dozens of other major cities to adopt policies that in varying ways discourage municipal workers from assessing the immigration status of people using local services and sharing such information with federal immigration officials.

They also are the judgments that have provoked the sharpest clashes yet between the two leading GOP presidential contenders, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Romney charges that these city policies encourage illegal immigration by offering the undocumented "sanctuary." He proposes to cut off federal funds for cities that adopt them and calls New York's approach under Giuliani especially egregious. "New York City was the poster child for sanctuary cities," Romney insists. On Tuesday, he launched a radio ad condemning these city initiatives and, by implication, Giuliani.
Read the whole thing.

Apparently, when Giuliani was mayor of New York, the city adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on the issue of cooperating with federal authorities investigating aliens under criminal suspicion, which included welfare fraud cases. City officials were allowed to provide information to federal officials, but they would not be able to make inquiries regarding the immigration status of city residents receiving public services.

How do we explain this? Is this just being practical?

The more I read about the down and dirty details of enforcing our immigration laws, the less confident I am that the country will ever get serious about securing our borders and respecting the rule of law.

Well, maybe I shouldn't be so pessimistic:
Federal officials did arrest and deport Elvira Arellano, the illegal immigrant who had evaded deportation for a year by seeking religious sanctuary at the United Methodist Church in Chicago. Not a day too soon, I might add.

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