In June 2007, when then-New Haven Mayor John DeStefano defied the nation’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) by offering a safe-haven for immigrants living there unlawfully, I didn’t think much about it. And I haven’t thought much about it in the intervening nine years either—the nine years that New Haven has been a “sanctuary city.”
There are many other locations with the same title, among them San Jose, Houston, Salt Lake City, Seattle, even smaller locales like Cambridge, and Somerville, Massachusetts. All of them have encountered their share of criticism, and occasionally events have become flash points in the debate. In San Francisco last year an undocumented immigrant killed a woman, Kathryn Steinle, and the turmoil began anew.
But now with the Trump candidacy, the argument has taken an uglier turn as Trump continues to ingratiate himself to the so-called racialists. You probably don’t need the word defined—suffice it to say that if the racialists’ darling, Mr.Trump, wins the election, sanctuary cities will disappear and undocumented immigrants living within them will face fines and imprisonment. Deportation will be the least of their problems.
In the area of immigration there is a difference between improper entry and unlawful presence. In the latter a person may arrive on a work or travel visa, may allow the document to expire, then remain here anyway. That is not a crime, though it may lead to deportation. An ensuing re-entry or conspiracy to enter illegally constitutes improper entry, and that is a crime. Of course the racialists want nothing to do with either group: the racialists want them all gone.
In years past splinter groups of bigots like these racialists and the even more sinister European-based identitarians hid in the shadows, coming out only to meet furtively with the like-minded; but Trump with his talk of exclusion and deportation has breathed legitimacy into them. And when Trump named Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon his campaign leader last week, it was a clear signal that the racist Trump who opposes multiculturalism and immigration is the one we’ve got. He’s not going to “pivot” and become “more Republican”; instead he will continue to court the voters with whom he already resonates.
He won’t win because, in the simplest terms, we’re better than that. But the damage he does to race relations in this country and the genus of xenophobia he leaves behind will undo decades of progress and understanding. Remember though, Trump’s main appeal seems to lie with the uneducated white voter: we still have two months to educate ourselves.