There may be one thing Donald Trump and I agree on. (I know, I didn’t think it would happen either.) The issue around sanctuary cities in the United States is yuuuge.
If you go to the Washington Post or the New York Times, their explanations of what a sanctuary city is – or county, or state – are detailed, illustrated by complex graphics and absolutely fascinating. The sanctuaries themselves, POTUS and the mainstream media are all over this.
Indeed, there are 36 American cities including Chicago, New York City and San Francisco, five states (California, Oregon, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut) and 633 counties that declare themselves as sanctuaries, to varying degrees.
This means two notable things. One, these cities allow undocumented migrants to access city services, and don’t blow the whistle on them should their identification, or lack thereof, not be up to snuff.
Two, and possibly more importantly, sanctuary jurisdictions have policies that limit co-operation between local police and federal authorities — notably, in the U.S., the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and immigration. It’s in policing where the rubber hits the road.
Here is a relatively brief and watered-down example from the Post. A city/county police officer pulls someone over, for a reason unrelated to immigration, such as driving drunk. Under U.S. law, fingerprints are taken and sent to the FBI, which passes them along to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If the inmate is an illegal immigrant, ICE asks the county jail to detain him so a deportation warrant can proceed.
However, keeping someone in jail without a warrant violates the person’s rights under the fourth amendment. Here’s where sanctuary policies kick in.
If the jurisdiction has such a policy and says no to detainment, the criminal case is completed and the person is released. (Some sanctuary counties will detain the prisoner if he/she is a gang member, on a terrorist list, or a similar issue.) Counties and cities without sanctuary policies will usually hold the inmate while ICE works on the deportation order.
The mayors of sanctuary cities are now loudly defying Trump’s attempted immigration ban. Trump, naturally, is fighting back by saying he will stall funding to those cities. Meanwhile, a Seattle federal judge (a real one, not a “so-called” one, as Trump suggested) blocked the travel ban, which is now being appealed by the federal government. As of press time, that’s where we’re at.
Enter Canada, where the discussion around sanctuary cities has hit the headlines in the wake of what’s going on in Trumpland.
In February 2013, Toronto made history by affirming itself as the first sanctuary city in Canada. City council passed a motion that also required training city staff and managers on the policy. Indeed, at the time, city hall estimated that Toronto was home to 200,000 non-status residents, so the policy was no small thing.
Returning to the policing part of the discussion, then, the policy in Toronto is “don’t ask,” according to several stories on the subject. However, if police are told the person is “illegally” in the country, they do have an obligation to report that to Immigration Canada.
Now, the issue of local sanctuary has emerged in Saskatoon, Regina and other Canadian cities. A group of people are forming an alliance to press for Saskatoon to become a sanctuary city, to ensure that public services are available for all without threat.
It’s fairly easy to do, and the tax cost would likely be minor, policy training aside. Riding a bus, taking out a book at the library, or even attending school (and I’m unclear on the jurisdictional boundaries around that) would not break the bank; let’s face it, Saskatoon is not exactly the first place illegal immigrants would land, so newcomers wouldn’t be swamping the buses (actually, that would be good) or the library.
The most crucial part of a sanctuary policy would again, in the main, land in the lap of the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS). As if they don’t have enough going on, with the rest of us.
I asked SPS spokesperson Alyson Edwards what the police were thinking about this idea. Her first thought was that it was early days, and some thought and research would have to go into it. A part of that would be discussing the matter with Toronto, potentially, to see what policies and training the city had in place, and what best practices might look like.
“It wouldn’t change a lot for us if it came to be. If we’re responding to an emergency call, we’re not demanding immigration papers,” said Edwards. “It’s not like in the States where they’re actively looking for that kind of thing.
“Public safety would be the first thing. We want people to feel safe, that they can call us without any fear of the effects or after-effects of that.”
And the SPS is already engaged in the sanctuary conversation.
“We’re open to having those discussions and being part of that process as it’s being discussed.”
It’s not like we’re on a perpetual migrant manhunt in Saskatoon as it is, and besides, immigration is a federal concern, not a municipal one. It appears that declaring Saskatoon a sanctuary city wouldn’t change much from a policing, taxation or city practice standpoint — except to make us even more welcoming. I’m all for that.