Sanctuary Cities and the Rule of Law

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

The battle rages on!

The continual battle over sanctuary cities is heating up in unbelievable ways. Pres. Trump has made the issue of sanctuary cities a major part of his administration’s legacy.

According to most advocates, a sanctuary city is a city that limits its cooperation with the national government efforts to enforce immigration law. The common perspective favoring sanctuary cities is that municipal and state leaders believe that a sanctuary city reduces the fear among illegal immigrants of reporting crimes as well as using medical care and educational facilities.

Most estimates are that there are over 300 jurisdictions in the United States where some sort of de facto (in practice) or de jure (in law) sanctuary status exists.

On January 25, 2017, Pres. Trump signed an executive order called “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” which fulfilled a campaign pledge and set off the debate being played out in the press and in the courts about our national immigration policy and the ability of municipalities and states to defy legally passed laws.

This battle goes well beyond the issue of immigration. This battle is about the very fabric under which our nation was founded.

The United States Constitution spells out the framework of our governmental structure. The very first three articles of the United States Constitution relate to the legislative branch of government, the executive branch of government, and the judiciary.

The rights, duties, and responsibilities of all three are clearly enumerated. Our Constitution was ratified by the founding states and every succeeding state that has joined the union. The framework under which we formed as a union is clearly understood by all or at least I thought it was until the concept of sanctuary city came about.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In addition to the structure our government, our First Amendment provides an additional framework within which our citizens have the right to seek redress of grievances. This process for redress is typically done through legislation or the courts.

When laws are just ignored based upon preconceived ideas without going through the courts, the legislature, or the executive branch chaos ensues.

Most states follow the same pattern framework. It is our rule of law. This is an essential component of our governmental structure and any effort to undermine that undermines our government, our freedoms, and our way of life.

With the federal and state structures being virtually identical and the ability of the citizens to seek redress from grievances, ignoring laws such as with the sanctuary city program is problematic. There are significant processes in place such as the use of the courts to challenge the very Executive Order Pres. Trump signed to withhold funding from those locations which refuse to follow properly enacted laws.

This is not about bureaucracy winning. This is about the ability of people to interact with one another with some degree of certainty about what the laws of the land are. Anything short of that destroys the very fabric of this nation and our Constitution.

When one set of rights or laws can be ignored then they can all be ignored.

A similar thing happened in the United States with the same-sex marriage debate when states passed laws that defied the Defense of Marriage Act or in some cases states merely defied the law. Eventually the United States Supreme Court permitted same-sex marriages. The damage done however of allowing this precedent of ignoring laws without punitive actions against the states or those responsible is incalculable.

It was ironic that in the case of sanctuary cities, one administration turned a deaf ear and chose not to enforce the laws on the books rather than changing the law because they were not able to get the votes in the legislature. When the Trump administration came in all that was needed to be done was enforce the law which is now spurring the legal challenges that should have taken place in the first place.

This precedent of ignoring laws because you cannot get the votes necessary to change the law in the legislature must be stopped. The sanctuary city problem is as good of a place to start as any.

One of the great advantages of businesses locating in the United States is the rule of law. It is the certainty of knowing what the rules are so that you can structure economic growth for the benefit of all accordingly.

The minute we deviate from that founding principle we have increased the uncertainty of locating in the United States and undermined one of the greatest economic engines in the history of the world. That structural failure will hurt significantly more people than those impacted by the sanctuary city dispute currently underway.

Leave it to the process created in our Constitution. Anything short of that will lead to disaster.

Col. Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan and specializes in corporate restructuring. He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at [email protected].