I have long admired the premise behind an ad campaign for a certain international bank. One ad in the series points outthat something as simple as the color red can have various meanings. Red may represent good luck in one culture and grave danger in another. In much the same way, some communities in the U.S. see things differently than others. Take police for example. Some see them as protectors; others view them as threats.
This difference in perception is one reason why H.R. 3009, the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act, which passed in Congress this week, is a dangerous policy. The bill, which proposes to withhold funding from local jurisdictions that protect the confidentiality of immigration status, is a short sighted and misguided reaction to the unfortunate murder of Kathryn Steinle, allegedly by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented Mexican American.
This type of reaction is not new. Shortly after the attacks of September 11, while I was serving as Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs for New York City, the House Judiciary Committee also held a hearing on sanctuary cities. The hearing was in part prompted by the revelation that a couple in Queens, New York had suffered robbery and rape at the hands of a group of young men, four of whom were believed to be undocumented. The City of New York was called in to testify because in September 2003, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued an executive order directing city workers not to inquire about the immigration status of individuals with whom they come in contact unless absolutely necessary.
That policy change meant different things at different agencies. In the city’s schools and hospitals, it helped protect undocumented parents from being asked about their status when they were claiming services to which their American-born children were entitled. It also meant that victims of domestic violence or other crimes could report these incidents without fear of being deported. These changes and others made New York safer, healthier and more productive.
Let’s be clear. No crime should go unpunished, regardless of whether the perpetrator is documented or not. But to create a climate of fear around the country because of an isolated incident is a recurring disease afflicting too many leaders in our country. And it is sadly far too common when a person of color is the perpetrator. If Dylann Roof’s attack on African Americans in a church doesn’t incriminate every white person, neither should Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez’s alleged shooting of Kathryn Steinle incriminate every Mexican American.
President Obama has indicated that he will veto the bill. And he is right to do so.
Rather than build trust between law enforcement and communities, this policy will incite greater fear and reluctance to engage with police and potentially other government institutions. If Congress wants to address immigration, they should do so by fixing a broken and outdated immigration system, not through fear-mongering and piecemeal policy.
Bhojwani is the president and founder of The New American Leaders Project. The program trains immigrants to run for public office. Bhojwani served as New York City’s Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs from 2002 to 2004.