There’s a moment in one of my favorite comedies, “The Princess Bride,” when the Vizzini character played by Wallace Shawn has said the word “inconceivable” for the umpteenth time. Mandy Patinkin’s character Inigo Montoya responds, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Which is what I want to say to every heartfree anti-immigrant person who uses the word “sanctuary” as if it were a curse word.
It doesn’t mean what you think it means in a legal context.
But before I get into that, let me ask a simple question. If your job description — the contract by which you conduct yourself at work said you were to perform x, y, and z duties for a, b, and c amount of compensation and benefits, would it not seem odd to you if suddenly you were tasked with additional duties that you were not trained to perform and without guidelines on how to perform them within the jurisdiction of local, state, and federal laws?
Every local law enforcement agency suddenly given the equivalent of a Hollywood Western’s deputy badge to become an immigration agent is facing just that. Sudden power for a job untrained for with unclear expectations. That’s not a recipe for disaster.
Essentially, what “sanctuary” means in this context is that immigrants regardless of status (undocumented, permanent residents, temporary visa holders, naturalized citizens) can report crimes they’ve witnessed or crimes against them without fear of reprisal by authorities rewarding their good Samaritan deeds with threats of deportation. Both studies and common sense demonstrate that someone in a precarious position is more likely to report a crime if the person can do so freely and without fear.
Not having sanctuary status means immigrants in this position historically have not reported crimes because it means coming out of the shadows and calling attention to themselves, leaving them vulnerable to both officials and perpetrators of crimes. This means anything from unscrupulous American slumlords not fixing their buildings, to American rapists and sex traffickers going unabated, and other exploitative crimes that harm both immigrants and citizens alike.
This is how “Sanctuary” in our coastal Californian cities works.
It means limiting the cooperation of immigrant witch-hunts with the relatively new agency, ICE. Immigration Customs Enforcement, which already has a track record of non-logical arrests of both citizens and immigrants regardless of status (they seem to shoot first and ask questions later — and a number of their arrests have been thrown out by federal judges). ICE is currently under scrutiny from both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for humanitarian violations.
“Sanctuary” does not shield immigrants of any status from local, state or federal laws and possible crimes. In the rare occurrence where an immigrant commits an actual crime (robbery or gun possession for example) —sanctuary does not shield them from either arrest or deportation.
So why all the fuss?
It seems particularly exhausting that we should be taking up the time of the Board of Supervisors with actions to get them to vote against California’s policy of sanctuary. Plumas County’s actual immigrant population is negligible. As of 2017, the county population is overwhelmingly 90.5 percent white citizens. Assume for argument’s sake that this 90.5 percent is all American born. That leaves less than 10 percent of the now 18,742 of the population of citizens a mix of Native Americans, (3.2 percent), and Latinos (African Americans and Asian Americans register in the 1 percent range in population).
That tiny Latino population is also mostly comprised of American citizens. So, those trying to pressure the Board of Supervisors to come out against “Sanctuary” for Plumas County’s undocumented population is targeting something like — what — 60 people in the county, if that? I’m being generous here with the numbers. As a former English as a Second Language teacher whose program shut down because there wasn’t enough need for it, I’m not buying that we have a huge immigrant population. This anti-sanctuary fervor is probably directed toward 20 people. That’s a lot of resources, time, and energy to expend when we have way more pressing issues.
One of the reasons I love Plumas County is its combination of the “live and let live” philosophy so prevalent in Northern California — and its warm friendly community feel.
It’s not neighborly to be either mean, or vindictive. There’s no purpose to railing against a largely symbolic gesture — given that we do not have a sizeable immigrant population in the first place. And before anyone argues with me, no. A person of color in Plumas County, even if they speak with an accent, is probably an American citizen. Having an abundance of melatonin in one’s skin does not make one a foreigner in one’s own country.
While the Board of Supervisors could be a little more forthright in conviction in refusing to denounce sanctuary, they deserve applause and support for not traveling that dark and slippery road towards dehumanizing their fellow humans.