Sanctuaries for illegal immigrants popping up around the US

Picture: Ricardo Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

With arrests of illegal immigrants in the US on the rise, more and more cities and college campuses are becoming sanctuaries, writes Bette Browne

A SHARP increase in the rate of arrests of immigrants in the US for overstaying their visas, including the case of Irishman John Cunningham in Boston, has sparked alarm in the sanctuary cities around the country that give undocumented immigrants refuge.

A total of 41,318 people were arrested on civil immigration charges in the period between the beginning of President Donald Trump’s presidency in January and April 2017, which is a 37.6% increase compared to the same period in 2016.

In Boston alone, a haven for many of the 50,000 illegal Irish immigrants who make up just a fraction of the 11m undocumented, the number of such arrests by federal authorities has doubled in the first two months of the year compared to the same period last year.

What began as a tightening of the financial screws on these cities by threatening to cut off billions in federal aid has now expanded into a wider crackdown.

Under President Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, millions of immigrants were also deported but the rate of arrests and deportations has increased sharply since Trump came to power.

While the federal government accuses these sanctuary cities of thwarting the efforts of the immigration authorities to seize and deport illegals, the mayors of the cities have said their job is to protect their communities not to do the work of implementing and assisting federal immigration officials.

Meanwhile, inspired by the defiance of such cities, the sanctuary movement has also spread to a number of college campuses around the country. Like the sanctuary cities, sanctuary campuses are also on a collision course with Washington after pledging to shield thousands of undocumented students who increasingly feel under siege or in danger of deportation.

The universities and colleges have pledged that campus police will refuse to enforce immigration laws and will not allow officers from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) onto campuses without a warrant. Neither will they share students’ immigration status with ICE. In response, the governor of Texas and Republican legislators in Arkansas, Georgia and California have threatened to cut off funding to such colleges.

There are about 4,500 higher education institutions in the US, including state and private colleges, and so far about 28 have declared themselves to be sanctuaries. Over 100 others have expressed varying levels of support for the movement.

A growing number have also chosen to implement sanctuary-type policies without calling themselves sanctuary campuses, including the California State University system, the largest public university in the country, Rutgers University in New Jersey and the University of Massachusetts.

Different levels of support have also come from leading private colleges like Harvard, Yale and Stanford universities.

Harvard president Drew Faust said while she would not declare the school a “sanctuary campus”, the university would continue to provide support services for undocumented students.

So far, the University of Pennsylvania is the only Ivy League school to formally designate itself a sanctuary campus.

Unlike sanctuary cities, many of which shield large numbers of Irish illegals, the students protected by sanctuary campuses tend to be primarily of Latino or Asian origin.

This is because the children of Irish illegals automatically became citizens once they were born in the US, while thousands of Latino and Asian children were not born in the country, having arrived illegally with their parents.

These children, numbering about 800,000, had been protected under a policy know as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), introduced in 2012 by then President Obama, though it should be noted that under Obama 2.7m illegal immigrants were also deported.

Trump vowed to repeal DACA during his presidential campaign but in a surprise about-turn on June 16 he said he was leaving it stand, at least or now, though his decision will have no impact on the status of their parents.

“As ICE raids escalate across the country, DACA recipients will continue to fear that their parents will be picked up at any moment — on the way to work, church, or the supermarket — all because they had the audacity to want a better life for themselves and their families,” said Cornell University professor Maria Cristina Garcia.

The conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform strongly opposes the sanctuary movement and says schools that refuse to cooperate with federal agents are putting students’ security at risk.

“Affording public benefits to illegal aliens not only serves as a magnet to future illegal immigration but is a slap in the face to the thousands of disadvantaged Americans and legal immigrant students competing for those same college slots and funding,” the group says.

For some schools defiance does come at a high price. Many are already struggling financially and will find it difficult to withstand the threatened loss of millions in annual federal aid.

An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from second level schools in the US each year and while they are guaranteed a first and second level education in state schools they often face legal and financial barriers to higher education.

Only six states, California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington, allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid.

Thus, only 49% of illegal immigrants between 18 and 24 have attended college or university, compared with 71% of all US residents in this age group.

Many of these undocumented students, brought by their parents at an early age to a better life in the United States, also find themselves struggling with dual identities.

Indeed, they they have become known as the “1.5 generation” because they fit somewhere between the first and second generations. They are not first-generation immigrants because they did not choose to migrate but neither do they belong to the second generation as they were born and spent part of their childhood outside the US.

They are also finding themselves in an increasingly hostile environment amid growing concern about tough laws now before the US Congress that would expand powers to enforce immigration laws and deport such illegal immigrants.

Two of the bills spell out new powers for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, while a third would beef up immigration enforcement.

Republicans, who have proposed the bills, say they are aimed at keeping the country safe but Democrats charge that they target the wrong people and would amount to setting up what they called a “deportation force”.

New York Congressman Jerry Nadler went further. Speaking about the bills before judiciary committee members in the House of Representatives, he said one provision could turn millions into criminals overnight.

That provision would make it a crime to be unlawfully present in the country. Under current law, being unlawfully present is a civil violation, not a criminal one, and is not punishable by imprisonment.

“This provision even applies to those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, and who, once they turn 18, would now be considered criminals facing imprisonment.”

It’s hardly the future the parents of these immigrants imagined for them, no more than they could ever have imagined sanctuary cities and sanctuary campuses becoming part of the fabric of modern America.


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