The concept of a sanctuary city is an ancient one, dating back to the Old Testament. But with immigration emerging as a major issue since the 2016 Presidential election, the topic has a new life, both nationally and locally.
The current controversy over sanctuary cities began in January, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order cutting federal funds to cities and counties that provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants to help avoid deportation. On March 27, new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions doubled down on that threat to withhold federal funds.
Children are being separated from their parents, adults have been unexpectedly deported when they show up for community service, and an app has been created that lets immigrants alert loved ones if they've been detained.
In order to better understand the government's intentions, Mayor Mike Rawlings joined Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other mayors across the country in a March 29 meeting with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in Washington D.C.
The issue right now is playing against our own constitution. But ultimately it will be decided by our pocketbook.
Defining sanctuary city
Immigration has been one of the top themes of President Trump's first 100 days in office. Not only does he want to keep illegal immigrants out, he wants to find and remove those already here.
Like-minded politicians such as Texas Governor Greg Abbott argue that it's a safety issue, characterizing undocumented immigrants as criminals. Yet research doesn’t back that notion. According to studies cited by the New York Times, foreign-born people are less likely to commit crimes than those born in America. Not to mention that two-thirds of the 11.5 million people have been in this country more than a decade.
While the term "sanctuary city" has generally come to mean a city that will protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, Mayor Rawlings and his peers are seeking clarification on the definition and what type of cooperation they're expected to observe.
In addition to the mayoral meet-up, on March 29, Travis County and the city of Austin joined a lawsuit out of San Francisco contesting the constitutionality of Trump’s executive order. Now 36 counties and cities nationwide are party to the lawsuit.
Travis County has already lost $1.5 million in state funds, and in February, Austin was one of six cities targeted in a series of raids by ICE.
Abbott continues to threaten to take away funding and declared the issue a legislative emergency. He's even talking about a law that would jail sheriffs serving in sanctuary cities and counties.
Life without immigrant workers
The anti-immigrant sentiment is, not surprisingly, having a haunting effect on immigrant communities and eroding trust in law enforcement. Police say it makes it harder for them to do their job. Crimes go unreported. Cities and counties are less safe. It's a significant concern to elected officials and police officers, all charged with keeping the community safe.
Eight million undocumented people are actively working, accounting for 5 percent of the workforce. In Texas alone, undocumented immigrants pay $1.5 billion in taxes, according to the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, and $11.7 billion nationwide.
So let's assume all undocumented workers are suddenly gone. If it’s been a while since Econ 101, buckle up – it's about supply and demand. Who will fill these jobs? Already we’ve got a relatively low unemployment rate, which is coupled with retiring Baby Boomers. The size of our workforce is shrinking. There are less people to do jobs, period.
Will those looking for employment take the jobs previously held by undocumented workers? Historically, they never have. To entice consideration, the hourly pay rate would have to go up. It would keep rising until one of two things happen: people start taking the jobs or the cost of labor becomes prohibitively expensive. That item or service will go away no longer be available.
When companies cannot afford employees, sentiments about undocumented immigrants will shift. As products and services we rely on become cost-prohibitive, the role that undocumented workers play in our economy will be recognized. As businesses in this country start to fail, elected officials will be less anxious to throw people out of the country.
That's just the dollars and sense of sanctuary cities.
Rani Cher Monson is a marketing consultant at RainMaking Marketing. She can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org and via Twitter @RaniMonson.