We’ve all heard of how the Feds want to force local first responders and cops to be deputized as INS agents and help round up all them illegals. Authorities are raiding workplaces. Families are getting split up and American born children (you know... CITIZENS) are either being ripped from their parents’ lovin’ arms or they’re being deported to countries with no chance at an education or a decent life.
Some communities are taking the predictable route and are denying services, going the English-only route on forms, making it impossible for people to obtain ID or even open a bank account. That leaves tens of thousands living on the edge of society – not getting healthcare for their (often times American born) kids, going to the police when they’ve been victimized by domestic violence or robbery, or even seeking help from the fire department when they need it.
There’s a move on lately to change all that. Cities and towns around the country are declaring themselves to be Sanctuary Cities for these immigrants, and are making it possible for them (and their children) to become full-fledged members of their community.
Make the jump...
Some of you may recall my mentioning that my husband is a legal immigrant. He’s got his green card and has had it for quite some time. But there was a time when we were terrified that he might lose that status, and had faced the very real possibility of either having our family split up, or all of us being forced to leave. One immigrant – three American citizens – deported. Everything’s fine now but I can really relate to those families who’ve been f#cked by those raids recently.
So I was delighted to see an article in the Washington Post recently that tells of a movement to create a haven for illegal immigrants and their families...
HIGHTSTOWN, N.J. -- After federal agents launched a massive raid on an apartment complex here two years ago, other illegal immigrants in this quiet town near Princeton University grew so wary of the law, authorities say, that many began hiding behind headstones in a local cemetery when patrol cars approached.
In the aftermath of a series of raids in 2004, the town council in this historic borough of 5,300 -- transformed in recent years by an influx of at least 1,300 Latin Americans -- unanimously approved a sort of immigrant bill of rights. Joining a growing list of cities enacting a no-questions-asked policy on immigration status, Hightstown now allows its undocumented residents to officially interact with local police and access city services without fear of being reported to federal authorities.
It has opened new lines of communication here, officials say. One illegal immigrant at the complex where the raids were staged called on the police recently to help place a family member in alcohol rehabilitation; others have reported domestic abuse, extortion, theft and other crimes. Some are calling the town's pro-immigrant mayor for advice on City Hall weddings and landlord troubles. Hightstown has added services aimed at immigrants, including free bilingual computer classes last month. Noting the shift, one Spanish-language newspaper recently dubbed Hightstown the "Paradise Town" of New Jersey.
Imagine that... if you get beat up you feel safe in calling the police for help – something that most of us take for granted. I don’t know about you, but I think society as a whole benefits when someone’s able to get in to rehab, or is able to report a crime and the perp is caught and locked up.
Frankly, I think it’s a refreshing change from what we’ve been hearing about lately...
With federal authorities enlisting local law enforcement agencies to act as their "eyes and ears" on the ground, a number of towns have responded with highly publicized zero-tolerance policies on illegal immigrants. In Hazelton, Pa., the Illegal Immigration Relief Act -- passed last year but being challenged in federal court -- denies licenses to businesses that employ illegal immigrants, fines landlords $1,000 for each illegal immigrant discovered renting their properties and requires that city documents be in English only. Other towns have deputized police officers to act as local immigration cops.
But equally fervent are a less well-known but fast-growing number of "sanctuary" cities and towns -- from Seattle to Cambridge, Mass. -- where local authorities are effectively rejecting the federal government's call for tougher enforcement and instead bestowing a measure of local acceptance.
In New Haven, Conn., for example, officials have prohibited police from asking about an immigrant's legal status, and in July the city will introduce municipal identification cards, providing undocumented immigrants with a "locally legal" form of ID that will make it easier for them to apply for bank accounts and sign rental leases. Overall, at least 20 cities and towns have approved pro-immigration measures over the past three years, according to the D.C.-based Fair Immigration Reform Movement. Analysts and advocates say almost as many -- including at least five in New Jersey, where about one in 17 residents is an illegal immigrant -- are considering similar resolutions."
Hightstown Mayor Robert Patten, who hails from the core German-Irish stock in this heavily Democratic town, sees things differently. The town square, once peppered with empty storefronts, is brimming with new Latin American restaurants and remittance centers.
"Most of us know this town would have a heck of a time trying to run itself these days without the immigrants," said Patten, a Republican. "They're working at the grocery stores, the fast-food places, they're opening businesses and keeping this town alive and young. We're just being practical by telling them, 'Look, we want you in our community, and we want you to feel like you belong.' "
Even after what our own family went through years ago, I take a lot for granted. If we didn’t have health insurance and had to pay for things ourselves if our kids got sick, we could still take them to the local hospital for help without fear of deportation or jail. Not so for illegal immigrants unless they live in one of these sanctuary cities...
"I feel I can get help in this town," said Sonia, a 34-year-old from Ecuador who, like all illegal immigrants interviewed here, declined to give a last name. After getting an HIV test, she was in line to take her infant son for a doctor's visit. "These are things I could never afford. I don't have health insurance, and I'm afraid to go to the county hospital. I don't know what kind of paperwork they ask for. I feel more comfortable here. No forms. No questions. You just have to come in."
This is the kind of America I want to live in – one that welcomes people the way my own ancestors were welcomed generations ago. One that looks at the good in people and understands that everyone has something to offer if only we let them.
Not one that says I’ve got mine, go to hell.