Friday, May 29

Iowa City: Sanctuary City?

Iowa City has been a nuclear free zone, a free speech city, and hopefully a sanctuary city (if Father Rudy Juarez and other compassionate people have their way) where immigrant workers will not be hounded by the local police to do the work that ICE is responsible for to enforce antiquated federal law. As it stands, most of these workers are not taking jobs from hardworking Americans, but taking the jobs that most American workers are unwilling to do for the wages and conditions offered by employers.

If anything, immigrant workers willingly accept lower than fair wages to do mostly menial labor, in addition to living in fear of being turned in if they do not work off the clock if ordered, complain about job safety concerns, or don't turn the other cheek if harrassed by their employers.

When I lived in Corpus Christi, Texas I became intimately familiar with the practices of a large grocery chain that hired a large number of non-documented workers. Some of the stories of mistreatment I heard broke my heart, but it also gave me a sense of the decency of the people who were willing to take these jobs and thrive despite the challenges they experienced. A worker who was a highly trained engineer from Argentina and was working on his graduate degree at the local university there worked over 40 hours a week and received no benefits, vacation, or even sick days. Because his English skills were limited, he worked on an assembly line. He also repaired the line if it ever broke down. He did this for a wage that was under $6 an hour and felt lucky because he had started the job for less than $4 an hour in 1997.

What is a "Sanctuary City" and why isn't Iowa City one already? According to the Wikipedia, "a sanctuary city is a term given to a city in the United States that follows certain practices that protect illegal immigrants. These practices can be by law (de jure) or they can be by habit (de facto). The term generally applies to cities that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about one's immigration status. The designation has no legal meaning."

This is sort of an international good neighbor policy. If the person is living within the law in all other ways, the community is willing to look the other way about residency-status. This is a good thing as the law and fairness are not always intertwined. Some 31 American cities are sanctuary cities including Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles; Chicago; San Francisco; Santa Ana; San Diego; Salt Lake City; Phoenix; Dallas; Houston; Austin; Detroit; Jersey City; Minneapolis; Miami; Denver; Baltimore; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; New Haven, Connecticut; and Portland, Maine. They have adopted "sanctuary" ordinances banning city employees and police officers from asking people about their immigration status.

I will not argue for a minute that all guest workers are the salt of the earth. Certainly persons who commit serious crimes should not be allowed to be free here. But I do believe that people should have the right to take care of themselves and their families and that, for the most part, this is who the immigrant workers are.

There is a need for the federal government to revisit the policies and come up with some sort of common sense approach that allows these workers to come out of the shadows and gain legal status whether as guest workers or as residents. Until such approaches clear hurdles in the House and Senate and are signed into law, the fairest thing that we can do is to act locally to protect our fellow human beings from the injustice that comes from our broken system.


victor said...

its very interesting title ,, thanks

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PATV said...

If you're interested, here is a video discussing Iowa City as a Sanctuary City: