Flooding sanctuary zones
In the category of Mad magazine’s “scenes we’d like to see,” comes President Trump’s threat to transport migrants to cities and states that have declared themselves sanctuaries. Apparently he thinks such a move would force Democrats in Congress who represent these places to vote to fund the wall along our southern border.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls the president’s threat “unworthy of the presidency.” In fact, it is Congress that has been unworthy for a long time. Here is a body that passes laws everyone else must obey, but in too many cases is exempt from adhering to some of them.
In 1995, the House and Senate passed the Congressional Accountability Act, which finally applied many civil rights, labor and workplace safety statutes to the legislative branch, yet two very important laws, the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, do not apply to Congress. There are others.
Wealthy members of Congress might take offense should immigrants move into their neighborhoods. They don’t seem to care about the harm caused to ranchers and other property owners in states along the southern border.
Legal experts say it would be illegal under current law to move people to sanctuary cities and states. This crosses the border of ridiculousness. Some governors and mayors are protecting those who enter the country illegally from the law. If they were protecting other lawbreakers — drug dealers, or murderers, for example (which the president argues they are) — the law would consider them accessories after the fact and they would face prosecution and prison time. But because politicians refuse to update laws that are full of loopholes the current problem is their doing.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of sanctuary cities, here is a short lesson. Sanctuary cities were established in Old Testament law (Numbers 35:11) to protect someone who had killed another person by accident and without malice aforethought from “the avenger of blood,” who might be a close relative of the dead person. Under the priestly code, the accused was removed from the city and put on trial. If he was found innocent of murder, he was returned under guard to the sanctuary city in which he had claimed asylum. He enjoyed protection until the Jewish high priest died, at which point he was free to leave the city without fear of harm.
The Mishnah, the oral law given alongside the written Torah, states that the high priest’s mother (not the government) would traditionally supply clothing and food to those claiming asylum in the cities of refuge, so that relatives of the dead person would not wish for the death of her son because he harbored the accused. The Talmud argues that the natural death of the high priest was a type of atonement because he was considered pious. Maimonides argued that the death of the high priest was an event so upsetting to the Israelites that they dropped all thoughts of vengeance.
Today’s sanctuary cities and states have nothing to do with their original intent or outcome. Those living in this country without legal permission have broken the law, but are simultaneously protected by the law.
Does this make sense? Name other laws American citizens could break and not be held accountable. Try breaking the tax laws this week and see where that gets you.
One of the president’s problems has been his lack of focus. He throws proposals against a congressional wall to see if any will stick. He should stick with one and bring public opinion with him. The ultimate solution lies with a do-nothing Congress and only it can solve the problem. For political reasons, members of both parties refuse to do so.
Those who support sanctuary cities ought to experience the consequences of that support in their own front and backyards.
(Thomas is a columnist with Tribune Media Services.)