Is Santa Ana a “sanctuary city”? Let’s ask GOP candidates from this day in 2007

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Quasimodo and Esmerelda superimposed on Santa Ana Council Chambers

"Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" OK -- I understand the word -- but what does it mean?

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From exactly four years ago today in the New York Times (fair use basis is ready upon request; for now, I note that use of the long quote below in no way undermines the NYT‘s market for sale of this reportage) we find this discussion, which is surprisingly relevant to headlines from today.

Self-proclaimed “states rights” advocate and somehow Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich says that cities with sanctuary policies should be denied all federal funds and Santa Ana Register readers disagree about what exactly a sanctuary city is, make the original NYT article worth re-reading, if for no other reason than to remind us that at this point one cycle ago Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson were still viable candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination.

The issue is, what exactly constitutes a “sanctuary city”? The term has been wielded by the Republican presidential candidates as a billy club against one another over the past few months and a vigorous back-and-forth over the contours of the phrase consumed the opening moments of last night’s Republican debate.

The phrase has come to be used by immigration hard-liners to describe cities that turn a blind eye to federal immigration laws. So Mr. Giuliani’s rivals, particularly Mitt Romney and Fred D. Thompson, have tried to use it to paint Mr. Giuliani as liberal on the issue and out of step with the Republican base, something he emphatically denied again last night.

“The reality is that New York City was not a sanctuary city,” Mr. Giuliani said.

In truth, there is no universally accepted definition of the term. It originated in the 1980s when churches gave shelter to thousands of refugees fleeing political violence in places like Central America and Haiti, and various local governments adopted ordinances that welcomed them, some more concrete than others.

The Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan agency that provides support to members of Congress, issued a report in 2005 that described localities with sanctuary policies as those that have adopted “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies in which city employees, including the police, are not required to report illegal immigrants to the federal authorities.

It listed 32 cities or counties with sanctuary policies, including New York.

Mr. Giuliani had inherited an executive order from previous mayoral administrations that protected illegal immigrants from being reported to federal immigration authorities when using city services. During the presidential campaign, he has repeatedly insisted that the policy was necessary for public health and safety.

“If we didn’t allow illegals to report crimes,” Mr. Giuliani said yesterday, “a lot of criminals would have gone free because they’re the ones who had the information.”

Giuliani has the better of the argument policywise here, and also in my opinion the better of the argument as to how to define the “get used to it because we’re going to hearing it a lot” phrase “sanctuary city.”  Basically, there’s no accepted definition.

Not pursuing information about people’s authorization to be in the country is a broad definition of “sanctuary”; not cooperating with handing people over to authorities who seek them when  the absence of their authorization is known is a narrower one (which I think is preferable.)

Here’s how I see it: the most prominent allusion I know of in literature is in Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” about which I will happily resort to quoting Wikipedia:

“Esmeralda is later charged with the attempted murder of Phoebus, whom Frollo actually attempted to kill in jealousy, after seeing him about to have sex with Esmeralda, and is tortured and sentenced to death by hanging. As she is being led to the gallows, Quasimodo swings down by the bell rope of Notre Dame and carries her off to the cathedral under the law of sanctuary. Clopin, a street performer, rallies the Truands (criminals of Paris) to charge the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda. The King, seeing the chaos, vetoes the law of sanctuary and commands his troops to take Esmeralda out and kill her.”

(Sorry to have spoiled it for anyone.)

“Sanctuary” is where you refuse to give someone up to authorities upon their specific request.  That, to me, is the implication of “sanctuary city” — and it does not properly describe Santa Ana’s policies.  Are college dorms and fraternity parties “sanctuaries” from underage drinking, marijuana use, and harder drugs?  No — violations are just, for the most part, not pursued.  That doesn’t mean that a student or guest using these drugs has “sanctuary” — that the campus cops will face off against the Feds to enjoy giving up a student.  It just means that the campus cops have other priorities — as is their right.

Santa Ana also recognizes, as Giuliani did, that if you want people to report crimes, it’s better not to have them fear that doing so will mean months in detention followed by a one-way ticket to Guadalajara.  Silencing those who would otherwise report crime simply makes life easier for criminals.  But should it be called a “sanctuary city” as a result?  No, I think another phrase fits better: “prudent policy.”  If the Feds want to do their immigration raids, Santa Ana isn’t going to stop them — but it doesn’t have to feed its own crime rate by doing the Feds’ job for them and scaring its residents into silence.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)