By Emelina Rosa (reporting from Phoenix, AZ.)
HAVANA TIMES – Protesters interrupted a recent hearing in the Arizona state senate on a proposal to ban sanctuary cities and were removed by state police. Sanctuary cities are towns or even states that have decided to limit their cooperation with immigration officials who are trying to take people out of the community.
Five states, including California, New York, and Illinois, and the cities of Boston, Denver, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Jackson, Mississippi have voted to protect migrants, keep families together, and reduce fear of deportation.
The term “sanctuary” is not well defined, but the idea originated long ago, when people could seek refuge from persecution in a church. Many families have both documented and undocumented members, typically children born in the US, and others have lived here for many years without documents. Until Trump, undocumented folks who stayed out of trouble and kept a low profile were usually safe from arbitrary deportation.
Being in the US illegally is not a crime but a civil violation. Making local cops enforce immigration law diverts resources from more serious crimes and makes communities more dangerous. Studies have noted increases in crime when migrants are afraid to talk to law enforcement, afraid to report domestic violence and other crimes, and afraid to provide witness testimony because they cannot trust the police.
Sanctuary cities are safer because police can focus on real crimes instead of scapegoating immigrants. In many cases, migrants are stopped for minor traffic violations and arrested when they fail to produce a driver’s license, which most states do not allow them to get, and so a failure to signal a lane change ends with a deportation and a family broken apart.
Legalization is not quick or easy, it is a long, complex, and expensive process. Many people will never be able to legalize their status because they entered the country without a visa. An undocumented parent could be sponsored by a child born in the U.S. who is automatically a citizen, but the child must be at least 21 years old, but there is a limit to how many people may do so, and the waiting period can be as long as twenty years. Marriage to a US citizen is not an automatic path either. The noncitizen must leave the US and wait, sometimes for as long as ten years. Imagine what this would do to your marriage! These burdens were not in place when our families crossed the Mexican border or came through Ellis Island.
While there have been a handful of cases of migrants released from detention who committed horrible crimes, these are only a few incidents and they get blown up in the press. Most migrants are law-abiding and hard-working, they work in the fields and in restaurant kitchens, clean hotel rooms, and work outside during the hottest months of the years. They start businesses, buy homes, pay taxes, pay into social security, marry US citizens, and start families. They do their best to stay out of trouble.
Migrants are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. In the last few years, tens of thousands of migrants have arrived on the US border requesting asylum. They are fleeing danger in their home countries, most of them are from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, also Cuba and Venezuela.
Bill 1007 Sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Allen says that sanctuary cities are “a haven for drug cartels.” I don’t deny that the cartels exist, but migrants are the victims of the cartels and the conditions of impunity and corruption that allow them to flourish. They leave everything behind and flee for their lives when their businesses are extorted, their daughters catch the eye of some gangster, and their sons are told to join the gang “or else.”
The same system that produces Bill 1007 produced and reproduces the cartels. The Mexican cartels got their start feeding the insatiable market for drugs in the United States. During the 1980s, the US government used the profits of drug sales to fund the anti-Sandinista Contras in Nicaragua and has long been implicated in collusion with Mexican drug traffickers. Most of the high-powered weapons used by the cartels were manufactured in the US, where conservatives push back against gun control.
I challenge our state legislators to visit one of the detention camps maintained by ICE and tell us how many gang members are there. Please note the children sleeping on concrete floors and eating frozen bologna sandwiches, the lack of showers and clean clothes. She should be sure to visit the hielera (the icebox), the initial detention cells, which are kept freezing by design. Dozens of migrants including young children have died in detention since the current crackdown.
In Arizona, Republican-led efforts in the state legislature to pass bans on sanctuary cities are a response to last year’s efforts to make Tucson the state’s first sanctuary city. Senate Bill 1007 is not necessary since sanctuary cities were banned in AZ in 2010. It is another attempt to stir up anti-immigrant feelings instead of working to find real solutions to real problems.
Bill 1007 mirrors the infamous Bill 1070, passed in 2010. Most of its provisions were struck down as unconstitutional but the ban on sanctuary cities remains. A vigorous movement to oppose Bill 1070 spread throughout the state and sparked international boycotts.
Both bills represent “a return to racism, divisiveness and hate,” said Hugo Polanco, a lobbyist for Lucha (Living United for Change Arizona), who testified against Senate bill 1007. Polanco called the measure racist and in response the judge shut down the hearing and the cops moved in while protesters chanted, “Let the people speak! Let the people speak!” and “Whose house? Our house! Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” Polanco is the son of Mexican immigrants and grew up in Phoenix. His uncle, Angel, overstayed his visa and helped raise him.
“I’m sad to hear the areas I represent being portrayed as a warzone,” said Senator Andrea Dalessandro of Green Valley.