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Sanctuary from GOP Lies About “Sanctuary Cities”

Ed. note: the following column was originally published in Quorum Report.

U.S. Homeland Security Director John Kelly recently said he doesn’t “have a clue” what a sanctuary city is. It’s refreshing when someone in Donald Trump’s cabinet tells the truth. So far, the American public could use a little sanctuary from Trump & Company lies.

The term “sanctuary city” is loosely applied to political jurisdictions who honor the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantees against unlawful searches and seizures and Fifth Amendment guarantees of due process. Seems rather dutiful of local officials, doesn’t it?

Immigration officials sometimes issue “detainers” – administration requests – that city or county jails keep someone imprisoned until ICE officers can drop by to pick them up.

But problems arise when the local officials have no lawful reason to imprison someone. The detainer requests are just that: requests. They aren’t warrants. They aren’t court orders issued by judges and based on probable cause. Subjects of detainers are allowed no due process to challenge their imprisonment. Kafka would be proud.

Gov. Greg Abbott is fond of accusing Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez of breaking the law by refusing to honor 100 percent of the requests from immigration bureaucrats. She’s not breaking any laws. She’s trying to honor the Constitution.

Abbott isn’t the only one playing a little fast and loose with the facts. Other Republican officials and operatives accuse Hernandez and others of defying court orders or refusing to honor arrest warrants. That’s simply not true.

If judges issued warrants based on probable cause for suspected immigration violators there would be no controversy over so-called sanctuary cities. Local officials would honor such warrants. End of story.

But ICE wants local officials to unlawfully detain folks until they can pick them up and – this is important – only then determine their immigration status.

The recent flap about the near-release of a sex offender from the Travis County jail involved jailer errors in understanding the criminal charges against the suspect, not, as Republicans screamed, about the sheriff’s detainer policy. The suspect remained in custody and a higher bond was set when the nature of his suspected offense was clarified.

Legislators, at the urging of Abbott, are considering amending the state’s government code to remove from office any local official who refuses to honor all detainers. In other words, they want to pass a law letting them remove a local law enforcement official who honors the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Yes, you’re right. Such a law would itself by laughingly unconstitutional. By the way, a Chicago federal court has ruled ICE detainers unconstitutional. The order is on appeal and does not apply nationally, but it is confirmation of the deep constitutional difficulties with ICE detainers.

Abbott and other Republican elected officials are scared senseless at the thought that a possible future GOP primary opponent might pull the racist vote away from them. It’s the ghost of George Wallace, who said, after losing a gubernatorial election, that Alabama’s racist voters had abandoned him. “I was out-nig…ed. I’ll never be out-nig…ed again,” Wallace told his finance director.

Of course, the terrorizing of Texas Hispanics also helps Republican voter suppression efforts. Hispanic citizens – emphasis on citizen – are taught the awful lesson that despite their citizenship their appearance makes them suspect and open to harassment from law enforcement. Maybe they have a parent or grandparent without papers. Maybe a parent doesn’t want to see their citizen son or daughter harassed and frightened. So, they keep their heads down. They don’t vote.

It’s true that many Texans support the use of ICE detainers, but that’s because they’ve been lied to about them. Obviously, most Texans don’t want to see the Fourth and Fifth Amendments scrapped. The amendments are great protectors of the kind of unassailable individualism Texans cherish.

Recently, ICE officers entered the courthouse in El Paso and arrested a victim of domestic abuse who had just received a protective order against her abuser. Apparently, her abuser had tipped them off to her lack of papers. It’s hard to imagine a more un-Texan and dishonorable action.

Abbott and others may be badly miscalculating the political benefits of their inhuman and unconstitutional actions. I don’t think voters will be frightened any longer. They have been pushed too far in too many ways. There are many, many more law-abiding Hispanic citizens and lovers of the Constitution than there are white racists. For every one of the latter they pander too, Abbott et al alienate and motivate thousands of others.