Sanctuary Cities Can Provide Safe Havens For Terrorists

Original Article

In the wake of the San Francisco murder of Kate Steinle by serial illegal immigrant Francisco Sanchez — a story garnering national headline attention — the spotlight on immigration debate has now shifted to sanctuary policies that some 275 U.S. cities have adopted to protect illegal aliens from the reach of federal law enforcement.

The sanctuary movement began in the 1980s as an extension of the “underground railroad” to help illegal aliens from El Salvador and Guatemala.

But it was more than that. In addition to giving safe haven for the oppressed of foreign lands, the movement was seen by its leaders as part of a Democratic Party vanguard spearheading U.S. demographic and political change by increasing the number of illegal immigrants.

In practice today, cities that have adopted the sanctuary status often instruct their employees to avoid notifying the federal government of the presence of illegal aliens living in their communities.

Adopting sanctuary status also blurs the distinction between legal resident aliens and illegal aliens, thereby enabling illegals to benefit from taxpayer-funded government services and programs.

Michael Cutler, a lifelong Democrat and former career professional with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, can’t understand the Obama administration’s executive order on immigration and its accommodation of sanctuary cities.

“Why on earth,” Cutler asks, “would the U.S. government embark on a program of providing documentation to aliens who evade our borders and the lawful inspections process that (is) supposed to prevent the entry of aliens whose presence would be problematic for the United States — including international terrorists and transnational criminals?”

President Obama has given sanctuary cities free rein to ignore detention orders from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through his new so-called Priority Enforcement Program, which allows local agencies to disregard ICE notifications of deportable aliens in their custody and substitute those with “requests for notification.”

As a result, instead of turning illegal immigrants facing criminal charges over to ICE under its “detainer” rule, sanctuary city officials have looked the other way — even allowing dangerous criminals to walk.

The concern about sanctuary cities today should not focus only on the problem of alien criminals, exemplified by 8,145 offenders released from custody during just the last eight months.

Sanctuary cities can also provide a safe haven for very bad actors intending to wreak mass havoc on America, such as Islamist terrorists and drug cartel kingpins.

In addition to the need to plug the sanctuary city hole by enforcing existing federal law requiring local governments to cooperate with ICE, there are other gaps to fill.

An important recommendation of the 9/11 Commission was to tighten up the student-visa program after it was determined that the hijacker who flew Flight 77 into the Pentagon, Hani Hanjour, had entered the U.S. on a student visa.

In September 2014, Sen. Tom Coburn reported that since the 9/11 terror attacks, 26 student-visa holders have been arrested in the U.S. on terror-related charges.

Immigration officials acknowledge great difficulty in keeping track of the large number of foreign students coming into the U.S. — now in excess of 1 million each year.

According to the Citizenship and Immigration Services’ own figures, 58,000 students overstayed their visas in the past year, and some 6,000 of them were referred to federal agents for follow-up because they were deemed to be of heightened concern.

“They get visas,” Coburn concluded, “and they disappear.”

Comprehensive immigration reform will have to wait for the vigor of a new administration after the 2016 election. A proposal to ban funding to sanctuary cities has just been initiated in Congress.

It could be strengthened by the additional requirement to make federal immigration laws supercede local laws and sanctuary city protocols.

Stalled border security legislation needs to be reactivated, and additional legislation to tighten up monitoring and enforcement of the student visa programs is also needed.

But as we approach another anniversary of 9/11 and recognize that 2015 is a year of extreme risk, what’s most needed is heightened citizen vigilance. It is the price of freedom.

Scott S. Powell

Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Scott Powell has enjoyed a career split between theory and practice with over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur and rainmaker in several industries. He joins the Discovery Institute after having been a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution for six years and serving as a managing partner at a consulting firm, RemingtonRand. His research and writing has resulted in over 250 published articles on economics, business and regulation. Scott Powell graduated from the University of Chicago with honors (B.A. and M.A.) and received his Ph.D. in political and economic theory from Boston University in 1987, writing his dissertation on the determinants of entrepreneurial activity and economic growth.