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The Sanctuary Tragedy

By reacting to Trump like Trump, Mayor Kenney has shed more heat than light in the sanctuary debate. Maybe he should follow Jerry Brown’s lead and look for a solution

By reacting to Trump like Trump, Mayor Kenney has shed more heat than light in the sanctuary debate. Maybe he should follow Jerry Brown’s lead and look for a solution

By now, you may have heard of Juan Ramon Vasquez. He’s the Honduran citizen who, given sanctuary in Philadelphia, raped a 5-year-old. Once this tragic story came to light, a familiar script played out. Seizing it, the polarized sides of our national—and local—conversation snapped into action, each seeking to capitalize. Conservatives—like Fox News’ snidely uncivil Laura Ingraham—used it and Jim Kenney’s ill-advised “We’re a sanctuary city” celebratory dance to paint our city as Ground Zero in an exaggerated assault being waged on our country by undocumented immigrants. And progressives—fearful to cede any ground on the ideological front line—have responded with name-calling, classic whataboutism, and denial.

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I suspect that Ingraham and her ilk are beyond being persuaded that their view is either wrong or overly simplistic. But it’s the progressive response that troubles more. Because it’s yet more proof that reacting to Trump like Trump is a disease that is catching on, likely with profound civic and electoral ramifications.

But before we get to such lofty handwringing, let’s make sure we’re working off the same set of facts. Vasquez had been deported from the United States in 2009. He came back, however, which is a felony in itself. He settled in Upper Darby and was arrested in 2014 for aggravated assault. He was released even though ICE had issued a detainer request in his case—asking the city to keep him in jail due to his immigration status, presumably in order to deport him again.

The California Values Act doubles down on the notion that we’re a nation of immigrants, and that immigration has always made us better. But it also recognizes that with rights come responsibilities, and, if you’re here illegally and refuse to abide by your community’s social contract, you forfeit the state’s protection when ICE comes calling.

But the city, in keeping with its sanctuary policy, only complies with such requests if they’re signed by a judge, so off he went. Fast forward to this year, when Vasquez was arrested and convicted of repeatedly raping a 5-year-old relative, a crime for which he’s now serving an 8 to 20 year sentence. Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced that Vasquez had pleaded guilty to that felony of illegal reentry after deportation, which will likely add time to his sentence.

“The facts of this case highlight the danger posed by the city of Philadelphia’s decision to disregard ICE detainers and release previously deported aliens from local custody,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain. “Those of us in the law enforcement business should be doing everything in our power to protect vulnerable children from predators like Vasquez. Instead, this defendant received a free pass from the City of Philadelphia and its Department of Prisons, headed straight back into our community, and committed a heinous crime he never would have had the chance to commit had the City of Philadelphia complied with the ICE detainer.”

The left responded predictably. “Spoken like an appointee of the Trump administration,” said District Attorney Larry Krasner in response to McSwain, before ludicrously blaming Trump for the 5-year-old girl’s rape: “The Trump administration has made it so that immigrant children can get raped because they’re afraid to call the police.”

At the Inquirer, in a piece headlined “Immigration debate has little to do with crime and everything to do with racism,” Abraham Gutman cited study after study showing that increases in undocumented populations don’t correlate to increases in crime, and that “sanctuary policies have no effect on crime rates.” He’s right—not only do immigrants commit less crime than the native born, immigration is a net positive economically and culturally. It’s something to celebrate.

There once was a time when progressives supported the most vulnerable among us, like 5-year-olds who have the right not to get raped. By positioning the call to have cooperated with ICE in the deportation of Vasquez as racist is not only to martyr a scumbag, but also to violate a sacred trust: How exactly does it protect our communities to release such bad actors back into them?

All of which supports the need for smart immigration policy. But here’s the thing: In no universe does a policy that protects a predator like Juan Ramon Vasquez qualify as such. There once was a time when progressives supported the most vulnerable among us, like 5-year-olds who have the right not to get raped. By positioning the call to have cooperated with ICE in the deportation of Vasquez as racist is not only to martyr a scumbag, but also to violate a sacred trust: How exactly does it protect our communities to release such bad actors back into them?

While it’s true that immigrants—legal and undocumented—commit less crime, it ought not to follow that we should put up with those few who are the exception. Vasquez, after all, is not an isolated case. In last week’s press release, the Department of Justice summarized the cases of other detainer requests that had been ignored by the city. They included a Lithuanian citizen with three DUI convictions; a Mexican citizen convicted of indecent exposure; another Mexican citizen with weapons and aggravated assault convictions; a Gambian charged with aggravated assault; and an Italian citizen convicted of selling cocaine.

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The litany begs moral and political questions that ought to be put to the progressives who pervert progressivism with blanket sanctuary policies. The moral question: Remind me again why you want to be defending these extreme violators of the social contract? What is the social utility you seek?

The political question: Do you really want to make Juan Ramon Vasquez the face of the Democratic party come November, let alone 2020? You may think you’re taking a principled stand. In fact, you’re playing right into Trump’s tiny little hands.

The victims in our communities that fall prey to these bad actors are not only victims of scoundrels like Vasquez; they’re also victimized by a system dominated by extreme ideological back and forth. While the Ingrahams and Krasners make headlines reading from their playbooks, the plight of 5-year-old rape victims gets the Philly Shrug. It’s a window into the peril of our time; what we need are more ideas, not more ideology.

Reacting to Trump like Trump is a disease that is catching on, likely with profound civic and electoral ramifications.

“To me, ideology is corrupt,” says controversial author Jordan Peterson, profiled last week in The Atlantic. “To be an ideologue is to have all of the terrible things that are associated with religious certainty, and none of the utility. If you’re an ideologue, you believe everything that you think.”

Peterson, who is Canadian, would have a field day with our sanctuary city debate. So: Is there a way to get beyond the superficial posturing of pre-conceived, inflexible positions? Maybe get somewhere that’s as practical as the majority of the American people?

Actually, when it comes to immigration, we need look no further than the President of Blue America, California Governor Jerry Brown, who signed SB54, a state sanctuary law last October. It codifies statewide sanctuary policies, barring law enforcement officers in the state from arresting individuals based on civil immigration warrants, from asking about a person’s immigration status, and from participating in any joint task force with federal officials for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws. So Ingraham and her ilk are apoplectic.

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But, in order to get his signature, Brown engendered some criticism from the left by insisting on exempting from the law’s protections undocumented immigrants with prior convictions for some 800 felonies. An exhaustive list of those crimes can be found here, and they include gang-related violence, DUI, child endangerment, aggravated assault, and even obstruction of justice convictions. It’s a pro-immigrant, pro-community piece of legislation, because the ever-practical Brown realized that no moral principle is served by releasing undocumented marauders back into law-abiding communities.

The piece of legislation Brown signed in California is widely called a “Sanctuary State” law, but its actual name was the California Values Act. That seems about right. For it doubles down on the notion that we’re a nation of immigrants, and that immigration has always made us better. But it also recognizes that with rights come responsibilities, and, if you’re here illegally and refuse to abide by your community’s social contract, you forfeit the state’s protection when ICE comes calling.

Brown is no divider-in-chief; listen to him, and you hear a leader who is committed to keeping faith with the natural born citizens and immigrants—legal or undocumented—who contribute to our quality of life every day. If we don’t do that by refusing to protect them from those who would terrorize them, we denigrate the very idea of e pluribus unum: Out of the many, one.

Photo: Philadelphia City Council via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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