California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 54 on October 5, making California a sanctuary state for those who have entered or reside in the U.S. in violation of civil or criminal law. A sanctuary state is one that limits who state and local law enforcement agencies can hold, question and transfer in helping the federal government enforce immigration law, but does not prevent the federal government from entering county jails to question immigrants and conducting regular deportation raids. In other words, the bill, which will take effect on January 1, does not get rid of cooperation between local and federal law enforcement — it simply prevents local officials from asking people in the state about their immigration status during “routine interactions” or situations in which the people involved in the interaction with an official are legally allowed to leave at any time. The newly-passed bill will bring a number of benefits to illegal immigrants by making it possible for them to achieve the American dream, but it will also bring benefits to the state of California. It is ultimately a step in the right direction by giving state and local enforcement more direct power when dealing with immigration.
An important point to remember is that not all people residing in the U.S. in violation of the law bring negative consequences to the U.S. A common opinion is that such people hurt the U.S. economy, but the fact is, that most illegal immigrants in the U.S. still pay taxes and help the economy. For example, most illegal immigrants take jobs that American citizens prefer not to hold, as they perform much of the cheap labor in the U.S. For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “about half of the hired workers employed in U.S. crop agriculture were unauthorized.” In fact, these immigrants are simply taking jobs that are still available because of lack of American interest. For this reason, allowing California to become a sanctuary state does not bring negative consequences, but would actually help the economy.
Another reason to support Bill 54 is the fact that the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws is not being removed as a result of the bill’s approval. This is appropriate since immigration is indeed a national security issue, not to mention a significant government responsibility since it affects all states in the U.S., which places the responsibility under federal government jurisdiction. However, the federal government should also acknowledge that immigration cases may differ on a state-to-state basis, since factors such as the nationality of the immigrants and their reasons for immigration can vary greatly across the country. For example, California’s immigration situation is significantly different from Rhode Island’s, and the federal government should deal with each state’s immigration situations individually instead of passing general laws for the country as a whole.
Many U.S. citizens view illegal immigrants as threats to their safety, and thus see sanctuary states as an idea that will only allow this threat to spread and potentially grow stronger. For one thing, sanctuary states are not some sort of safe-haven for illegal immigrants; the definition of sanctuary states maintains that local officials are allowed to decline to assist federal authorities with immigration enforcement. Unauthorized immigrants can be just as easily deported from sanctuary states as they can in others.
Another key flaw in this argument is the fact that sanctuary cities, which enforce the same limitations on local officials working with the federal government as sanctuary states, have actually been shown to be generally safer than other cities in the U.S. In these cities, immigrants feel more comfortable calling the police to report crimes, compared to regular cities, where many are afraid to call 911 because of the possibility that the police might contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and have them deported upon learning of their immigration status. The bill that Brown signed prevents local police from doing just that, and it ensures that ICE will not be able to deport individuals and break apart more families. The fact that someone is an illegal immigrant does not justify the removal of their right to feel safe enough to contact the police if they are in danger. It is also important to mention that undocumented immigrants’ reporting of crime prevents further crime not only toward themselves, but also toward other citizens.
Despite the fact that handling immigration law is the federal government’s responsibility, pieces of legislation such as Bill 54 are proof that local and state authorities should be allowed more involvement in regional immigration laws.
Human rights and individual protections will be uniform for all people, regardless of their immigration status, creating safer communities.