House GOP targets sanctuary cities as mayors call for inclusivity
© Aida Chavez

Mayors know that immigration makes the United States stronger.

Rather than discriminating against people based on their race, religion or creed, America’s mayors embrace cultural differences and stand with immigrant populations by protecting and empowering them.

But, those efforts could soon be hindered by an anti-immigrant bill that would severely threaten the effectiveness of local law enforcement, ultimately constricting immigration and closing our country off from the world.

The “No Sanctuary for Criminals” act, which narrowly passed the House of Representatives late last month, jeopardizes vital funding that protects and aids local public safety officers, while exposing local governments to potential litigation and liability.

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But, even as the House’s bill joins efforts like the roll back of the International Entrepreneur Rule, the administration’s travel ban and an increase in the arrests of undocumented immigrants, mayors continue to open their communities and reflect the shared national values that make this country great. Their commitments to creating welcoming communities were front and center in many State of the City speeches this year.

 

According to the National League of Cities’ latest State of the Cities research, 21 percent of 2017 State of the City addresses included significant coverage of demographics. Mayors in cities of all sizes focus on topics that included diversity, intergenerational support systems, and immigration.

Mayor Steve Adler of Austin lauded his city’s embrace of diversity in his State of the City speech, “We know that diversity makes us stronger…The character of Austin is important to us for a reason. It’s about a quality of life where we don’t thrive despite our weird, diverse, and inclusive values – we thrive because of them!

Mayor Adler is elevating these inclusive values further by joining a lawsuit with several other Texas cities to sue the state over its new “sanctuary city” immigration law – a blanket preemption law that targets fundamental city rights. Austin and many other cities do not want to deputize local police as immigration officers.

On the west coast, Elk Grove, Calif., Mayor Steve Ly shared his own immigration story--demonstrating through his own life and leadership the incredible importance of a welcoming society. In 2016, Mayor Ly became the first Hmong-American mayor in the United States.

In his state of the city speech, Mayor Ly noted the immigration stories of the city council as well as his own as a refugee from Laos. He also pointed to a proclamation passed by the city council in 2016 to declare Elk Grove as “No Place for Hate,” saying, “This proclamation represented a commitment by the Council and our community to protect and preserve the rights, freedoms, safety and security of all of our residents. As a city, we will not tolerate or condone hate motivated intimidation or violence. Not today and not ever.”

Looking to the Great Lakes city of Grand Rapids, Mich., Mayor Rosalynn Bliss announced the creation of a new education program called “OurCity Academy” in her state of the city address. The program will provide immigrants with an education about how local government and school systems work, how best to navigate these systems and where to find important information.

While Mayor Bliss spent a significant amount of time discussing the social and public safety benefits of being an inclusive and welcoming city in her speech, she also pointed to the economic benefits that immigrants bring to cities, saying, “The motivation for being welcoming to immigrants isn't just about human decency, it is also a matter of business success. Many local companies rely on the talent of individuals from across the globe.” Bliss added that, “According to the Michigan Office for New Americans, immigrants comprise more than 25 percent of the state's technology sector – and that is just one area of employment.”

Statistics like those in Michigan are reflected nationwide. A study from the Fiscal Policy Institute finds that 28 percent of main street business owners are immigrants, and this proportion is higher in areas with large immigrant populations like Miami and Washington, D.C. Further, economists estimate that for the United States to achieve the 3 percent GDP growth that the administration aims to achieve, we would need to double the existing immigrant population over the next decade – not work to push immigrants out.

A number of mayors used portions of their State of the City speech to make clear that their cities are safe places for immigrants and to stand strong against threats from the administration to strip federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

In Los Angeles, which is home to roughly 3.5 million immigrants, Mayor Eric Garcetti highlighted the importance of forging trust between the immigrant population and law enforcement, “When we build trust between our police department and our people, everyone feels safer — especially immigrant Angelenos who might be feeling anxious right now. That’s why I want you all to hear, once again, loud and clear: The LAPD will never act as a federal immigration force. Neither will our airport and port police. Or our firefighters.”

Mayor Garcetti has also joined more than 150 mayors in supporting immigrants through the Cities for Action coalition. This coalition focuses on fighting for federal immigration reform and launching inclusive policies and programs in cities.

Ultimately, mayors’ primary goal is to create safe, livable, and prosperous communities. Whether it’s by starting businesses or leading a city, immigrants and descendants of immigrants play a critical role in the fabric of our country.

Rather than passing broad sweeping legislation that makes cities exclusive, less safe and threatens prosperity, federal leaders should open a dialogue with the nation’s local leaders who want to uplift members of their communities, strengthen public safety by building trust, and open doors for immigrants.

Brooks Rainwater is the senior Executive and director for City Solutions, and Irma Esparza Diggs is the senior executive and director for federal advocacy, at the National League of Cities.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.