Should Iowa City Be a “Sanctuary City”?

For a slightly different version, see Jim Throgmorton. 2010. “Should Iowa City be known as a ‘sanctuary city.’” Iowa City Press-Citizen (November 10): 11A.

About two weeks ago the Press-Citizen ran a story by Josh O’Leary about whether Iowa City should become “the state’s first ‘sanctuary city’ for illegal immigrants.” Two days later, the Des Moines Register ran the same story under the wildly misleading headline, “Iowa City ponders becoming haven for illegal immigrants.” According to O’Leary’s report, the Rev. Rudolph Juarez was asking the city council to leave enforcement of immigration laws to the federal government. His proposed ordinance would ensure that people living in Iowa City, regardless of their immigration status, would be protected if they were to contact authorities “as the victim of a crime or witness to a crime.” Police Chief Sam Hargadine and City Councilor Terry Dickens indicated support for the proposal, with Hargadine emphasizing that the ordinance would not protect people who committed a crime.

O’Leary’s report has stimulated a flurry of comments on line. Some seem supportive, but most are not. Some are so negative and derogatory that they call for a response.

Many of the negative respondents misread O’Leary’s story to mean that Iowa City would not arrest undocumented people who commit crimes. Others made personal attacks on Father Juarez and the elected officials and people of Iowa City. Several equated Mexican immigrants with violent crime and foresaw a horrific future filled with brown-skinned criminals. Their comments condemned “illegal aliens,” “anchor babies,” “bleeding heart liberals,” the “lying sacks of feces that are in charge of this country,” and “illegal alien gangs” bringing “3rd World crime.” Most advocated the arrest and deportation of all persons who are here illegally, and some claimed city councilors should be harassed and the Police Chief fired.

Many of these commentators surely consider themselves Christians. If so, they might recall the story about Mary, Joseph and their baby Jesus’ flight to Egypt as told in Matthew 2.13-23. When translated into their own words, this would become a tale about an “anchor baby” being brought into Egypt by two “illegal aliens.” Before condemning “illegal aliens” for sneaking into this country, they might also recall Exodus’ story about Moses guiding the Israelites out of the house of slavery, through the wilderness, across the River Jordan, and into the land of the Canaanites. They might contemplate Exodus 23.9: “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Or simply ponder Jesus’ admonition: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Those commentators who are not Christians might simply ask themselves how they’d feel if they were walking in the “alien’s” shoes.

Talking about other human beings as “illegal alien babies” and, simply because of their ethnicity, as members of “alien gangs” who need to be arrested and deported is appalling and morally repugnant. The people who hold these views should be ashamed of themselves. Their language and ideas are but one step shy of the ethnic cleansing that ravaged the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s and leads down the road already trod by the jack-booted thugs of 1932 Germany.

I can’t believe this is a road they really want to walk. And it’s not where we should go.

If you believe in treating all people as fellow human beings worthy of respect, I say: This is no time to sit on the sidelines. This is no time to be quiet. This is no time to be fearful. This is a time to stand up for what you know is right, to join hands, and to say with one loud voice: ENOUGH!

Rather than let ourselves and our neighbors become terrified by the spectre of brown-skinned criminals, we should work together to devise a fair and effective strategy for controlling immigration across our borders and for helping the millions who are already here to become fully contributing citizens, while treating immigrant families and children with dignity and respect.

This would not necessarily require formal designation of our town as a “sanctuary city,” but it would mean supporting the policies that Father Juarez has advocated.

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