So let me get this straight: America is thrown into an overwrought political debate about the Confederate battle flag—a relic that has absolutely nothing to do with the shooting in Charleston—but is unwilling to engage in a conversation about the deliberate disregard of federal law that directly leads to the murder of at least one young woman?
That’s basically where we stand. After sending mixed signals, The Hill reports that Democrats will be making a concerted effort to defend San Francisco’s sanctuary laws and killing of Kathryn Steinle along the city’s famous waterfront. Most Republicans will avoid the matter altogether for the sake of political expediency. Soon enough, I imagine, it’ll be xenophobic to bring it up at all. One of these conversations, after all, is risk-free, jammed with self-satisfying preening about the right sort of evils. The other, morally complex—especially for the supporters of immigration reform (like myself)—and fraught with electoral consequences.
But let’s set aside immigration politics for a moment and consider a detail that’s often lost in this debate: Fact is, some people in America are free to ignore laws they don’t like, while others are not. Hundreds of jurisdictions nullify federal immigration law, not because they question the constitutionality of law, but because they find those laws ideologically problematic and immoral. And when I say “some” jurisdictions, I mean entirely liberal ones.
When Alabama made noises about refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the incident was, rightly, treated as attack on the rule of law. There is simply no way the administration will allow any state to work around centralized control once it’s established. No city in America will be ignoring gay marriage any more than they will be bypassing Environmental Protection Agency control, or making health-care insurance decisions that aren’t dictated by Obamacare (or retroactively whatever Democrats claim they meant in Obamacare), or welfare policy decisions that aren’t dictated by Washington, or housing decisions that undermine the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or education policy that directly conflicts with the wishes of the U.S. Department of Education. And so on.
Generally speaking, the Tenth Amendment is viewed as an artifact of a regressive time that is only used to advance racism and impede progress. So 1990s! So when Jan Brewer signs an Arizona law requiring police to determine whether a person was in the country legally critics claim it will mean an explosion of racial profiling by the state, and the Obama administration does everything it can to stop it. Immigration law is a federal matter, as you all know.
And when the administration is unsatisfied with Texas and other states enforcing the same federal law, Obama unilaterally, and without any of the oversight from the democratic process he pretends to cherish, exempts undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children from the law. Now, immigration is a matter of Washington edict, not something for the states or, perhaps, even Congress, to worry about.
But San Francisco, well, it’s the purview of the city council to decide what happens—as long as those decisions comport with long-term liberal goals.
When cities—more than 200 of them—decide to pass their own laws “protecting” illegal immigrants, we are not talking about some calibration or prioritization of “enforcement” levels. The media often use a euphemism about a “lack of cooperation” between cites and DC when, in fact, jurisdictions are simply invalidating federal law. Can you imagine the reaction from the administration if Dallas passed an ordinance allowing local police to free criminals who had broken federal gun laws or hate-crime laws? Can you imagine what would happen if 200 cities did the same?
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez was deported five times and had seven felony convictions. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had even started another deportation process before San Francisco took him in for drug charges it soon dropped. Rather than turning him over to ICE for deportation, as federal law stipulates, the sheriff’s department released him in adherence to the city’s sanctuary policies and never notified ICE. He then killed a woman.
Jessica Vaughan lays out some of the numbers in National Review:
According to ICE records, from January 1 to August 31, 2014, more than 8,100 deportable aliens were released after arrest in approximately 300 local sanctuary jurisdictions, even though ICE had issued a detainer seeking custody in advance of deporting them. Some 62 percent of these offenders had a prior criminal history, like Sanchez. Roughly 3,000 were felons, as was Sanchez. Of the 8,100 aliens who were released to the streets instead of to ICE, approximately 1,900 were later arrested, a total of 4,300 more times, on 7,500 different charges. The most common subsequent charge was dangerous drugs, followed by DUI.
You know, it is possible to simultaneously believe that a policy is wrong but that arbitrarily enforcing law is more problematic. No matter how hard-working illegal immigrants are or how many suffer in the shadows or how many would make incredible Americans, there are many illegal immigrants who are criminals. Ignoring the law allows criminality—not immigration—to fester and grow. In the end, this may hurt the cause of reform. It’s doubtful that peaceful Americans—citizens, immigrants, or illegal immigrants—want criminals traversing back and forth over the border with impunity and the protection of the state.
While Republicans who supported gun laws are vilified forever, though the laws liberals want to enact would be unlikely to stop mass shootings, people like Hillary Clinton, who has endorsed sanctuary cities in the past, will never have to answer for Steinle. Hillary once claimed that “local law enforcement” should not have to “act like immigration authorities.” I agree. But of course, local law enforcement officials turn over criminals of all types to federal authorities. We’re not talking about sending local cops out to bang down doors and throw single Mexican moms into vans. We’re talking about handing over illegal immigrants who have been accused of engaging in criminal acts (beyond crossing the border without permission).
Now, there is no doubt that anything dealing with “immigration” will be conflated and used for political purposes. This is about immigration, yes, but in some ways it’s also about the lawlessness that’s become the most powerful tool in left-wing governance. If this kind of nullification and arbitrary enforcement of law becomes acceptable—as it has with the Supreme Court, for instance—what happens when conservatives begin doing the same?