Americans have a history of engaging in civil disobedience and publicly defying laws that are seen as unjust but which have for some reason proven to be difficult to change through lawful means. Civil disobedience is commonly accepted as honorable so long as protesters remain peaceful and are willing to bear the legal consequences of their actions. The sanctuary city movement is the latest form of mass civil disobedience.
Enforcing and updating Immigration law is a federal responsibility. But it has a huge local impact on our schools, our businesses, and churches. And when people you know are targeted for verbal or physical abuse because of the color of their skin or their accents it’s not just a legal issue it becomes personal. Because of the local and personal impact of our immigration laws it’s natural for citizens to go to their local representatives, mayors, school boards and city council and demand help when the federal government fails to act.
And that’s the problem being addressed by adopting sanctuary city status. When it comes to illegal immigration, the federal government has failed. Declaring sanctuary city status is a community’s collective protest through their elected municipal representatives. It’s a more organized and powerful form of civil disobedience because it’s not just people, it’s the people acting through their local government. It’s civic disobedience. And it exists because Congress refuses to take up the hard task of finding a resolution that is fair, recognizes the “facts on the ground” and protects our national security.
Polling shows that most of us agree we need secure borders, that we should remain vigilant about who is allowed into or stays in our country and that we shouldn’t punish people who came here as children and are now productive members of our community. Americans generally agree that all families are important and we should try to keep them together. In fact in a July 2016 Gallup poll 84% of Americans supported allowing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally the chance to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements. 76% of Republicans supported that position while only 62% supported building a wall. And that is Republican voters.
So, if you want to know who is responsible for the sanctuary city movement, look to our national leadership. They have failed to enact the will of the majority of Americans and fix our inequitable laws because a small but apparently vitally important part of the Republican lead coalition demands unrealistic, unsupported and unfair solutions to an admittedly complicated problem.
As long as sanctuary cities are willing to accept the consequences of their civil disobedience it’s an honorable form of protest. And if history is any guide, based on the growth of the movement and the overwhelming public support for equitable reform, it will also ultimately be successful.