Red State, Blue City: Sanctuary Cities and the Conservative War on Local Control
Over at Vox, Dara Lind reports on the controversial Texas bill, SB4, which would prohibit cities from adopting policies that limit the cooperation of local law enforcement officers with ICE. She writes:
On Wednesday night, federal judge Orlando L. Garcia of the Western District of Texas issued a ruling stopping most of the state’s “anti-sanctuary-city” law SB4 — which attempted to force local police departments to assist federal immigration enforcement — from going into effect as scheduled on Friday. …
Among the parts of SB 4 that have been put on hold:
- A provision that would have forced local jails to honor federal agents’ requests to hold immigrants after they’d otherwise be released, so that ICE could pick them up.
- A provision that would have barred any local official from “endorsing,” or even appearing to endorse, any policy that would have materially limited immigration enforcement (including, possibly, standing on stage with advocacy groups that were advocating for such limits).
- A provision that would have required local police to allow their officers to cooperate with federal agents whenever possible, including “enforcement assistance” of federal immigration law.
The court did not, however, enjoin one of the parts of SB 4 that attracted the most controversy when the bill was passed earlier this summer: the provision that forces local police departments to allow officers to ask about the immigration status of residents during a detention or arrest.
In “sanctuary cites,” police don’t hassle folks over their immigration status, and don’t make it their business to enforce federal immigration law. Why? When immigrants think talking to the cops might get them jailed or deported, they hesitate to report crimes, assist in emergencies, and cooperate in investigations, endangering public safety. A cloud of fear settles in over immigrant populations when local police are conscripted into federal immigration enforcement. When spooked workers don’t show up for shifts, and their kids don’t show up for school, disturbances ripple through the community’s vital institutions, harming immigrant and native alike. Swapping a climate of trust and productive, peaceful cooperation with a climate of fear, uncertainty, and suspicion ranks high on the list of all-time terrible ideas. It’s not surprising that immigrant-heavy localities aren’t keen on it.
Still, Texas’ Republican legislature, and it’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, insist on sowing fear and disorder in their state’s big, liberal cities.
“I know there are a lot of families and children who are afraid and worried right now about what might happen to them,” says Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, reacting the the threat of SB 4. “I want them to know that Houston is, and always has been, a welcoming city, where we value and appreciate diversity. HPD is not the Immigration and Naturalization Service. We don’t profile, and we are not going to start profiling people to determine whether they are here illegally.”
This red state/blue city dynamic is American politics in microcosm. Conservatives in relatively sparsely populated, relatively economically stagnant, overwhelmingly white areas are trying to hold on to the levers of power, by hook or crook, in order to defend a traditional conception of American national identity against the rising economic, electoral, and cultural power of big, successful multicultural cities. The continued growth of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin (who already pay the state’s bills) will spell the demise of Republican control in Texas, sooner or later. Policies like SP 4 are a bid to delay the political and cultural Houstonization of Texas, just as Trump’s attack on sanctuary cities is a bid to delay the Texification of America. But it’s better for the Lone Star state, and the country, if the parts of SB 4 put down last night by Judge Garcia stay down.