By Theodore Shoebat and Walid Shoebat
Thus to the children of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron with its common-land (a city of refuge for the slayer) (Joshua 21:13)
Yes, sanctuary cities are not immoral and are as ancient as the Scriptures. They are designed for the protection of people from mobs and from overreaching government power.
Even the Trump administration is advocating for a policy of releasing captured migrants into sanctuary cities, which are simply cities where local law enforcement are hindered from working with federal immigration officials, where employees are prohibited from asking about immigration status, and where jails cannot cooperate with federal immigration authorities unless it involves inmates convicted of violent crimes. The proposal to release migrants into sanctuary cities has been rejected by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and according to the Washington Post it was simply made as retaliation against Democrats. Trump’s proposal appears to be more of a show if anything, since in 2017 Trump signed an executive order to have federal funding removed for sanctuary cities, stating: “Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law […]. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic” (Executive Order 13768, 2017).
There is really nothing immoral about sanctuary cities. Even in the holy writ of the prophet, there is the teaching on the importance of the city of refuge, and its shocking to see so many Christians object about what is already biblical (sanctuary cities). To quote one article: “Sanctuary cities are as old as the Bible.” As we read in what God told to Moses:
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan,then you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally may flee there. They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment. And of the cities which you give, you shall have six cities of refuge. You shall appoint three cities on this side of the Jordan, and three cities you shall appoint in the land of Canaan, which will be cities of refuge. These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there.” (Numbers 35:9-15)
Making cities of refuge for people who have accidentally killed is very wise and reasonable. If someone kills without the intention of killing, or accidentally, that person would need protection from an enraged mob that had made itself judge and executioner. Look at are own times. Kate Steinle was killed by an undocumented man named José Inez García Zárate from Mexico. People wanted Zarate dead. But it turned out that the killing was an accident and Zarate had no intention of murder. Sanctuary cites are also places where undocumented people are impeded from being deported if civilians (such as employers) report them to ICE. Thus a sanctuary city is a refuge from citizens who want to use the law to have “illegals” thrown out of the country. If the Bible has sanctuary cities for manslayers, then there is nothing immoral about a sanctuary city for undocumented people who live in the US and work.
The city of Cochella in California — which declared itself a sanctuary city in 2017 — has said that they will welcome migrants, since churches, agencies and organizations within the area have been helping migrants for quite some time. “We are a pro-immigrant city and we welcome the immigrant community,” Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez said. The mayor of Cathedral City, the Coachella Valley’s first sanctuary city, also affirmed that his city would help migrant families if they arrived in the desert.
It is argued that within sanctuary cities there is better cooperation between law enforcement and migrants, since they don’t need to fear deportation if they make contact with an officer. While migrants are much less likely from getting apprehended in a sanctuary city, this does not mean that they are totally exempt from arrest. In the words of one study:
“Although local communities adopt “sanctuary” policies to limit cooperation with the federal government, the implementation of these policies does not imply that noncitizens are protected from federal immigration enforcement action, leading some to suggest that the term “sanctuary” is a misnomer (Tramonte, 2011). In fact, many “sanctuary” jurisdictions allow for local assistance and cooperation in the enforcement of federal immigration laws when individuals have been convicted of violent or serious felony offenses”
So if the undocumented person is a murder, a sanctuary city is not meant to protect him, just as in the Bible the city of refuge was not for murderers but for those killed accidentally.
Lyons, Vélez, and Santoro (2013) argue that localities with “open political opportunities can generate a ‘spiral of trust’ that improves communication between officials and immigrants, promotes legislation protecting immigrant interests, and generates system‐level trust in government on the part of immigrant groups” (p. 609‐610).
While there are quite ominous and Malthusian organizations who want you to see migrants as invaders and a threat to America’s natural resources, its not as though the US has not gone through this before. In the early 1980s, there was a wave of migrants that journeyed to the US from Central America on account of the horrific violent conflicts that took place there (thanks to US foreign policy and the murderers that people like Elliot Abrams were backing). Most of these Central Americans were rejected asylum by the US government. And so in response to this, churches and religious organizations started to work to help migrants, providing them with sanctuary, including food, clothing, housing, and social or legal services. The workings of these churches and religious groups commenced a “sanctuary movement” throughout the United States in the 1980s. In 1986, the US government passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which expanded and increased immigration enforcement. But, thanks to the religious groups and churches that were helping migrants and providing them with refuge, localities began to enact measures affirming that officials would not cooperate with Immigration and Naturalization Service in the deportation of the migrants. From just private organizations and churches providing sanctuaries, it gradually became cities becoming sanctuaries. But, the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), and the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and also the “War on Terror”, made an intensification of immigration enforcement at the state and local levels.
These acts widened the list of deportable offenses that went beyond murder and drug trafficking and expanded the category of “aggravated felony,” which is a classification of felony that only applies to noncitizens. There is nothing wrong with deporting somebody for committing crime. While we will affirm this wholeheartedly, we will also say that the bulk majority of migrants have not committed violent crimes and who are not drug traffickers. These people should obviously have the right to go through the asylum or visa process, or the path to citizenship, and should be allowed to work, as opposed to being used as a political tool (by Republicans and Democrats) or deemed as an enemy. We also do not see any issue with sanctuary cities as long as they serve as refuge for people not of bad will.
There is nothing illegal about coming to the border, and claiming asylum.
Early this year, a group of migrants from Central America came to the Southern US border and claimed asylum. While there was a political outcry about this, what these people did was within legality. As Houston immigration attorney Mana Yegani said: “They’re making it sound like what people are doing …. arriving and surrendering themselves to start the asylum process, is illegal … The one thing that has to be clear is that these people are not openly defying our border. They are not breaking the law … In fact they’re doing it the right way. They’re doing it the way that the law permits to seek asylum like any other refugee in the world.”
When one speaks about borders they tend to refer to the southern border of the United States. But the border can also be at an airport, and certainly people can claim asylum there because an air port is a port of entry. Upon arrival at a port of entry, a migrant can surrender himself to a Customs & Border Protection Officer to claim asylum. Our organization, last year in fact, helped a Catholic Nigerian immigrant who came to the US and claimed asylum. We payed for his immigration lawyer fees and eventually he was able to obtain a work visa.
After claiming asylum they are then brought into custody. “They will go into custody, which is a fancy way of saying immigration jail,” Yegani says. Customs & Border Protection will book the person, take his fingerprints, and will also do a short question and answer session. During this interrogation, the migrant must — under oath, declare that he has a fear of persecution if he returns. Under international law, says Yegani, “we have a duty not to return a person to a country where they may face torture or other serious harm.” The asylum seeker must have a “credible fear” of religious, political, or ethnic persecution. Escaping poverty is not something that typically gets one a pass claiming asylum.
Before being interviewed to show a credible fear, the asylum seeker is booked in detention for several weeks. To quote Yegani:
“Sometimes the wait in the immigration jail can be over a month since we have a shortage of Asylum officers who conduct Credible Fear interviews. If the Asylum seekers crossed the border as a family, generally the husband will be separated and the mom is booked with the children.”
While in detention, the US government provides food, and also shelter and clothing to migrants. The funding for this provision is under the authority of the US Attorney General, as we read in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965:
“The Attorney General, in support of persons in administrative detention in non-Federal institutions, is authorized-
(A) to make payments from funds appropriated for the administration and enforcement of the laws relating to immigration, naturalization, and alien registration for necessary clothing, medical care, necessary guard hire, and the housing, care, and security of persons detained by the Service pursuant to Federal law under an agreement with a State or political subdivision of a State”
An attorney can be present in the interview if the asylum seeker has the means to obtain one (since an asylum seeker does not have the right to an attorney). If the asylum seeker can demonstrate a credible fear, this still does not guarantee asylum; it simply allows Customs and Border Protection to continue on to the next step. If the border officials determine that a person does not have a credible fear, the asylum seeker can then appeal to stand before an immigration judge. This is when attorneys usually get involved. But the vast majority of Central and South American migrants are denied asylum by immigration judges. Once these asylum seekers are rejected, they are deported back to their country and banned from entering the US for five years. If the person is granted asylum they will get a green card one year after the date of approval of their asylum.
People with a criminal record obviously should not be allowed into the country, and any allowing of people with criminal pasts through the border is a transgression against the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.
According to one 2017 report, four states, 364 counties, and 39 cities observe policies that to a certain extent limit their cooperation with requests from ICE to hold noncitizens in detention. The same report says that since 1979, 65 cities or local law enforcement agencies have adopted “sanctuary” ordinances in some form or another, the majority of them being accepted between 2000 and 2008. However, these cities and counties do not necessarily become sanctuary cities because they are “pro-immigrant”. Amongst the motivating factors are legal reasons, as we read from the same report:
“Nevertheless, we must emphasize that the implementation of limited cooperation policies at the local level is not merely about whether a particular locality is “pro‐immigrant” or “anti‐immigrant.” This would be an oversimplification, as some jurisdictions do not honor immigration detainers due to concerns over potential civil rights violations as well as financial constraints at the local level (Kittrie, 2006). In other words, a local jurisdiction may not comply with immigration detainers simply because it is not in their best legal or financial interest.”
There is a common trope of connecting sanctuary cities with crime, but major studies on this subject are not really coming to the same conclusions or correlations. Tom K. Wong did one of the leading studies on sanctuary cities and crime and concluded:
“Crime is lower and economies are stronger in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties. The data support arguments made by law enforcement executives that communities are safer when law enforcement agencies do not become entangled in federal immigration enforcement efforts. The data also make clear that, when counties protect all of their residents, they see significant economic gains. By keeping out of federal immigration enforcement, sanctuary counties are keeping families together—and when households remain intact and individuals can continue contributing, this strengthens local economies.”
A study done by Gonzalez et al. (2017) showed that from 2000 to 2014 there were no statistically significant differences in crime rates. While there are indeed migrants who enter the US with bad intentions, and who commit crimes, at the same time we cannot simply isolate the bad elements and make them the whole of the situation when it comes to the undocumented. We cannot ignore that many people come to the US to escape crime and economic instability. For example, in Central America, in the 1980s and 1990s, after the bloody wars that plagued the region, the International Monetary Fund demanded of these Central American countries to lower tariff barriers and reduce social services. This was demanded for the benefit of multinational corporations who wanted to establish themselves in Central America. This destroyed local businesses and accelerated unemployment and widened the gap between rich and poor. A result of this, in the words of Lesley Gill, was illegal immigration:
“Illegal immigration to the United States and an influx of desperate peasant settlers to the coca-producing regions of the Andes were just some of the consequences. Common crime exploded, especially in Central America, where the distinctions between victims and victimizers became harder to discern in rural Guatemala.” (Gill, The School of the Americas, intro, pp. 14-15)
Central America is not only one of the poorest, most unequal and indebted places in the world; Central America is also one of the most violent regions in the world. Of course, we should not be surprised that people from there actually want to come to the US. From a report published by InSight Crime entitled, Honduras Elite and Organized Crime, it reads:
“Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors.”
Corruption in the Honduran police is so bad that a former security minister once called it “air traffic control men” for drug flights coming into the country. Members of the police will even work as assassins for criminal entities, rob drugs only to resell them to the criminal underworld, and they will even — for money — murder rivals of their drug clients. But behind the scene of obvious criminality, there is an elite class of people who are collaborating with the criminals, conducting themselves in illegal activity behind a veneer of legality be that through campaign contributions or companies.
The criminal underground in Honduras is more than just corrupt cops and mobsters; it involves a whole network consisting of the country’s most powerful economic elites in banking and media. And many of the people involved in this criminal network are not native Hondurans, but rather second generation immigrants from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. These elites have enjoyed tax exonerations for their businesses, and have used the government to profit and further impoverish the society, all the while Honduras is one of the most poorest, indebted and violent countries in the world. The law in Honduras is not on the side of the people, rather it is there for the benefit of criminals. As one report, published by InSight Crime, says: “those who do politics or business in Honduras understand that the laws governing the nation of eight million people are but a means to make money.”
The most powerful business conglomerates in Honduras have names that are not Spanish, but rather Arab and Jewish, like Facussé (from my birthplace of Bethlehem), Maalouf and Rosenthal. These families began coming into Honduras in the 20th century. They have dominated the financial and service sectors, telecommunications and media. For example, there was the case of Yankel Rosenthal, who served as minister of investment under current President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who was sentenced to two years and five months in prison after being found guilty for attempting to launder drug proceeds on behalf of a Honduran lawyer. There was also Yani Rosenthal (Yankel’s brother) who was sentenced to three years, and his father, former Honduran Vice President Jaime Rosenthal, who was also charged. There was also Miguel Facusse, a Palestinian Honduran tycoon and biofuels magnate who was the most powerful man in the country, who according to Wikileaks was for years a cocaine importer.
Traditionally, Honduras — like its Central American neighbors — had an economy based on exports (such as with mining and bananas). But Honduras soon distinguished itself from its neighbors when its export economy got dominated by a foreign owned monopoly, the United Fruit Company. Honduras is not just some poor country, it is a center for American corporations. In the words of Rachel Sieder: “The root … of Honduran exception was the country’s insertion into the world market and the development of its domestic political apparatus under the aegis not of a national agro-exporting oligarchy, but of US monopoly capital”.
Remittances are a huge business in Honduras. While much money comes from agriculture, like African palm plantations, a tremendous amount of money comes from drug traffickers and makes up a huge part of the economy, flowing through major sources of wealth such as the tourism industry. The drug underworld in Honduras goes back almost 50 years. Usually they sold drugs like cocaine and marijuana, but within recent years they have worked to bring in the precursor chemicals used to mass-produce synthetic drugs.
The drug industry in Honduras is financially much greater than the traditional — and not immoral — types of industry, upsetting the balance of power on a local, national and even a regional level. Drug traffickers in Honduras are not only local. You also have transnational criminal organizations such as from Mexico and Columbia, who use Honduras as a storage facility for their drugs which they move wholesale to the US or other countries. There have been reports stating that leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel have been operating in San Pedro Sula, a major city in Honduras.
The US State Department estimated that 95 percent of cocaine transported from South America to the United States moves through the Mexican and the Central American corridor, while 80% of this stops in Central America. The drug industry is so immense in Central America that it envelops the whole of the society, being heavily connected with politics and industry. For example the big narco Francisco Zelaya Fúnez owned numerous construction companies and had signed a number of public works contracts with the municipality of La Ceiba before he was captured in Mexico in 2013. The notorious drug family, the Valle Valle family, had strong connections to Alexander Ardón, mayor of El Paraíso, a town of the Honduran state of Copan which is on the border with Guatemala. Ardón’s brother, Hugo, was running Honduras’ central government road construction and maintenance fund known as Fondo Vial.
In July of 2014, Honduran authorities arrested Arnaldo Urbina, the mayor of Yoro, and charged him and numerous others with running a drug trafficking and assassination ring that murdered 137 people and disappeared 45 others.
The world of transnational criminal organizations in Honduras can be traced back to Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros. After making a name for himself as a drug trafficker, Ballesteros established a narcotics distribution network that spanned from Columbia to Mexico. Ballesteros’ allies in Mexico became known as the Guadalajara Cartel, which would later break into the Sinaloa, Juárez and Tijuana Cartels, some of the most violent and organized drug organizations on earth. Ballesteros’ narco network included members of the Honduran military, exhibiting just how well connected the criminal underground was and is in Honduras.
His empire did not just consist of drug dealing; Ballesteros also founded coffee, tobacco, spice and dairy companies, cattle holdings, construction and agro-industrial companies. He also had his own airline, SETCO (formed by American businessmen) by which he would transport drugs. In the 1980s, during the US’ proxy war in Nicaragua, the American government used Ballesteros’ SETCO airline to transport ammo, food and supplies to the Contras, who were fighting the Communist Sandinistas. According to the Kerry Committee report, the Honduran airline SETCO was “the principal company used by the Contras in Honduras to transport supplies and personnel for the Honduras-based FDN (one of the earliest Contra groups), carrying at least million rounds of ammunition, food, uniforms and other military supplies for the Contras from 1983 to 1985”.
The United States knew that they were cooperating with a major drug trafficker, as we learn in a 1983 U.S. Customs report that the Kerry Committee report references: “SETCO aviation is a corporation formed by American businessmen who are dealing with Matta and are smuggling narcotics into the United States.” In fact, the US government paid SETCO notwithstanding the fact that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) once categorized Matta Ballesteros as a “Class I DEA violator.”
One thing that this does signify is that Central America truly is controlled by the United States. While we sit here and yammer about how these migrants are a threat to American sovereignty, lets remember that these people are coming from countries (really, Banana Republics) whose sovereignty is dictated by the United States. How can a people whose sovereignty is eclipsed by the US, all of a sudden be some sort of a threat to American power? For how many centuries have their been people within the US complaining about immigrants and how they are a threat to the US, and how many times did their predictions come true? Never. The immigration fear mongers make money from hysteria, and they are just as insidious as those who talk about how the earth is overpopulated and how if we don’t reduce human population the world will be hit with catastrophe. The immigration insanity was done against the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, and now that these fears are laughed at, the party of death will now look to the migrations from Latin America, and just as in the past, they have possessed your fear.
Ballesteros’ creation of business made him very popular in Honduras. In fact, when the US arrested and charged him for being involved in the murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena and kept him in the Dominican Republic, up to 2,000 Hondurans swarmed the US embassy in a mass protest, even setting fire to several annex buildings and burning vehicles. Four protestors were killed and US officials said that it took two hours for the Honduran authorities to respond to their their call for help.
What is this a sign of, but of a corrupt society? Who would protest for the sake of a major drug trafficker? The fact that this happened is an indication of societal decay. So while we should not be unjust to migrants fleeing these societies, and we should not all of a sudden jump on the tribalist and Malthusian bandwagon because of migration, at the same time we cannot look at Honduras as an innocent country. Its own problems stem from moral decay. But the solution to the problem is not to simply act like the Darwinists of the 20th century and say that shutting the border down is the only way to deal with migrants. In the midst of societal corruption, innocent people suffer. Take the 2011 massacre that took place in Las Cocos farm in Peten province in northern Guatemala. The farm’s owner, Rudy Ottoniel Salguero Morales, stole a drug shipment from the Mexican criminal group Las Zetas. To instill fear and terror, the Zetas took 27 innocent laborers who had no connections with the drug business and butchered them. Their corpses were discovered, severely mutilated, most of them decapitated, with the phrase “Z-200,” drawn on the wall with their blood. A survivor of the massacre recounted the horror:
“They started killing them around seven o’clock on Saturday night and ended at about three o’clock in the morning. I’m alive, thank God. I played dead when they put a knife in my stomach, then I went to hide and I left around five in the morning and I found heads thrown away. I walked several kilometers to find help, I found a person who gave me help”
These workers were hired to work on the farm for a month for only 50 quetzales (seven dollars) a day. These people had nothing to do with the nefarious activities of their employer. They were just there to work. We must acknowledge the social decay that is ruining Latin America; but at the same time we should not ignore the victims of the social decay. People strive to come to the United States so badly that they will even risk kidnapping.
For example, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission uncovered almost 10,000 cases of migrants getting kidnapped between September 2008 and February 2009. From April to September 2010, the same Commission found 11,333 kidnapping cases. 44.3% of those kidnapped were Hondurans, followed by Guatemalans, Mexicans, with small numbers of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Columbians and Ecuadorians. A common way of extorting these migrants is to kidnap them and then torture them so as to force them to give away their contacts in the United States or in their home countries. The families of these migrants are then contacted and told that they must give a ransom or else their relative will be killed. According to the victims of these horrors, the Zetas — the ISIS of Mexico — have been some of the biggest doers of this horrific crime. As one report states:
“The Zetas use a strategy of displacing and taking control of small communities. They terrorize and extort the local population and co-opt individuals who belong to gangs or small local bands, training them to carry out actions like surveillance of trains, apprehension of migrants, transferring and overseeing migrants in safe houses, making telephone calls for the purpose of extortion, and receiving the ransom. These delinquent groups, made up mostly of young people, are popularly known as the ‘Zetitas.’ In every kidnapping case they also commit serious crimes like assassination, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking. In its first two years, the Zetas cartel succeeded in establishing itself all along the routes travelled by migrants.” (Centro ProDH, Secuestros a personas migrantes, 9)
There is also the exploitation of migrant workers that occurs within the United States. There was the kosher meat packing company that was owned by Sholom Rubashkin where Central Americans worked in slave conditions. After ICE raided the meat packing plant (in what was the largest raid of a business in American history), many of the workers were forced into a trial en masse. Many of these workers were sentenced to five months in prison under the charge of misusing a Social Security number (undocumented workers will make up Social Security numbers since it is necessary to have one if one it to work in the US. Even with this, many of these illegals will pay taxes with made up Social Security numbers. People complain about the undocumented, but they don’t complain about the taxes they pay).
One of those who were put in jail was a Guatemalan peasant. He was found in the courthouse, in tears. He was asked while he was in jail, How did you come here from Guatemala? “I walked?” What? It was shocking to hear this. “I walked for a month and ten days until I crossed the river. … I just wanted to work for a year or two, save, and then go back to my family, but it was not to be. … The good Lord knows I was just working and not doing anyone any harm.” Most of the migrant workers did not even know what a Social Security number was, since their papers were filled out in the kosher plant. These people were ruthlessly exploited. “You people do and undo” said the migrant. “So you can do whatever you want with me. … God knows you are just doing your job to support your families, and that job is to keep me from supporting mine.”
But let the migration hysterias come out, let the agents of fear and hatred holler about such people — people who want to work — as though they are our enemies, the enemies of the US, as though they are somehow a threat to American sovereignty. Let me ask all of you, who is the dearest person to you in your life? Could it be your son, your daughter, your mother or your father? Assume that their life is in complete jeopardy. To one extent would you go to save them? Would it be worth getting the label of “illegal”?