Threatening Sanctuary Cities misguided

Editor's note: The following statement was submitted by the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society to the House Immigration Subcommittee Hearing July 23.

The General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) grieves with the family of Kathryn Steinle who was killed as a result of senseless gun violence. We continue to pray for an end to gun violence, which has sadly become an epidemic in the United States.

Congress should instead search for real solutions to the problem of gun violence.

(On July 1, an undocumented immigrant started shooting on Pier 14 in the Embarcadero district in San Franisco. He shot 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle, who died two hours later at a hospital. Authorities assert that the shooting was random, but it has sparked controversy and political debate over San Francisco's sanctuary city status.)

GBCS urges all members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to refrain from conflating the actions of one person with an entire community of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Congress should instead search for real solutions to the problem of gun violence.

Every day 89 people die from gun violence in the United States. In 2015 alone, there have been over 180 mass shootings, defined as killing or wounding two or more people in one incident. This includes the tragic gun shooting in Chattanooga, Tenn., on July 16 where four marines were killed.

Senseless gun violence

We are pleased Congress finally wants to respond to the acts of senseless gun violence, and so we strongly encourage members of Congress to pass universal background checks on all gun purchases as a way to begin to take seriously their responsibility to keep the public safe from gun violence.

Demonizing the immigrant community, however, for the actions of one person is misguided.

Demonizing the immigrant community, however, for the actions of one person is misguided. Penalizing cities working to establish trust between immigrant communities and the local police is an overreach by the federal government that will only damage local communities.

Many cities recognize how requests by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold individuals beyond their court-appointed sentences violate due process and have been found unconstitutional by federal courts. Choosing not to honor ICE detainer requests without probable cause or a signed warrant from a judge is constitutional.

It also actually improves public safety by increasing community trust in its police force. When all individuals can report dangerous situations without fear of being deported and separated from their families, safety is increased for all community members.

Crimes go unreported

When local police collaborate with ICE, more crimes go unreported because victims and witnesses are afraid of being deported if they contact the police.

The General Board of Church & Society opposes proposals that would infringe on the rights of states, cities, localities and police departments as to how they interact with ICE. We oppose the following pieces of legislation:

  • H.R.3002, The Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act;
  • H.R.2964, The Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal (CLEAR) Act;
  • House Amendment 352 offered by Rep. Steven King (Iowa-4) to H.R. 2578,
  • The FY16 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act; S.80 introduced by Sen. David Vitter, R.-La.
  • The Sanctuary Cities Amendment offered by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to S.1177, The Elementary & Secondary Education Act.

More harm than good

These proposals would do more harm than good. They do not address the epidemic of gun violence affecting the United States.

There are 320 jurisdictions across the United States with policies that limit collaboration with ICE. These jurisdictions should not be punished for exercising their own judgment.

We urge Congress to take responsible action to reduce gun violence and to refrain from demonizing immigrant communities by penalizing local communities from determining how best to provide public safety for their constituents.

Editor's note: Bill Mefford directs the Civil & Human Rights program at the General Board of Church & Society.

Letter to the Editor