The Fake Controversy of Sanctuary Cities
I do a lecture for university government classes on the importance of local democracy. While attempting to unpack how it is we’ve gotten to a point where all of our focus, energy, and political rearing occurs on the national political stage, I point out the absolute genius of national politicians and political parties to distract and engage us with shiny, flashy objects – issues that are engineered to divide us by appealing to our deepest sense of justice.
And every election cycle we prove to them that we can’t resist it. Both political parties successfully define our opinions, set the table for us of issues we should care about, and dictate our everyday discourse with friends, families, coworkers, and neighbors around the trumped up controversies they create.
The fake controversy of “Sanctuary Cities” is a great example of this.
I moderated a candidate debate for the three Republican candidates vying to replace Myra Crownover for the TX State Representative seat for District 64 during last Spring’s primary season. During the course of that campaign, all three candidates put out mailers declaring that they would put an end to sanctuary cities in Texas. Having received angry emails from angry constituents over Denton being on some list as a sanctuary city, I looked forward to engaging them on this topic.
My question was simple: “What is a sanctuary city and is Denton one of them?”
Despite this being a major “issue” in state and federal politics and despite this being a major campaign platform for these three candidates, not one of these candidates had any idea what they were talking about on this topic. Two of the candidates admitted as such and revealed that they, in fact, had no working definition of what a sanctuary city was. Without that, they had no idea whether Denton – or any other city, for that matter – was a sanctuary city. The third candidate at least attempted a definition, albeit an absurd one: “every city in the US in now a sanctuary city now that President Obama is in office!”
Complete nonsense. This controversy was nothing more than a slogan that could fit on a bumper sticker. There were no problems, nothing demanding any real policies, just a way to piss off a bunch of voters into getting angry enough to get to the polls and vote.
And nothing has changed on this front between then and a few weeks ago. There still exists no legal definition of a sanctuary city, no formal declarations coming from cities, no agreement on what policies anyone is even pointing to that would put a city in or out of this camp – just more nonsense.
Other than the self-understanding that politicians are generally a dumb breed, I can’t for the life of me understand why some mayors and cities and going overboard making public declarations that they are Sanctuary Cities and intend to keep it that way. They are appropriating a completely made-up designation – a designation made up, to be sure, to criticize them – and proudly applying it to themselves and the cities which they represent.
This has, in turn, led to a movement of citizens (who are concerned for the plight of immigrants in their community) demanding that their city become a Sanctuary City!
I can understand why a politician or political party would want to make up a controversy, make up a name for it, apply it to their political opponents, and whip up citizens into a frenzy on the basis of all of this in order to win votes. What I can’t understand is why those who are the target of this nonsense are so willing to accept the terms of the debate without much reflection and willingly describe themselves in the very made-up slogans that were meant to criticize them and stir up fear in their community.
Fellow city leaders: try a different approach. Call out this nonsense, don’t join it. This sort of bumper sticker discourse is making us all dumber.