WHY SANCTUARY CITIES AND SANCTUARY CHURCHES SHOULDN’T ANNOUNCE THEMSELVES
© Farhad Sethna, Attorney 2017
A lot of ink and space has been devoted to the topic of “sanctuary cities” and now “sanctuary churches”. A political entity (state, county, city) or an individual institution may choose to cooperate or not to cooperate with federal immigration agents. The exact mechanism may vary from case to case. For example, California has recently passed ground breaking legislation to assist immigrants who are in detention in state and county facilities.
The subject of criminal undocumented aliens will be the topic of a future blog article, but for now, let’s focus on sanctuary cities and sanctuary churches, and whether those entities should actually declare themselves.
I’m coming down on the side of not declaring. Here is why: there is no point in simply stirring the pot and declaring to the federal government that a city or a tax exempt entity is not cooperating with the federal government. There is no point in announcing resistance to the federal government. Taking such a stand will only create problems for oneself. If a policy, even if unwritten, is in place, then the policy will stand.
One way for cities to get around actually declaring themselves as being sanctuary cities is to refer all undocumented or criminal alien cases to the city prosecutor or the county prosecutor. That individual or office can then make a decision as to whether to notify ICE about that individual’s detention, and subsequently, whether to cooperate with ICE on the detainer (covered in another blog article) and turning over that individual to ICE for removal from the United States.
Likewise, churches potentially stand to lose their tax exempt status if they openly flout federal law. I would be very leery of a church openly declaring itself a “sanctuary”. The church stands to lose a lot, including potentially, defection by some of its membership who are not happy with the church’s political stand. It may also subject the church and its property to charges of “harboring” criminals or undocumented aliens. Furthermore – and perhaps even most important – announcing such sanctuary policies may void the church’s tax exempt status as well.
History is instructive: resistance groups in any culture and in any society have never announced themselves. The French resistance never announced themselves to the Nazis. European resistors of Nazi Germany did not go around giving lists of their members, meetings and locations to the Gestapo. That would have been really foolish – and deadly. Likewise, today’s modern resistance against the flawed immigration policies of the Trump regime must remain similarly circumspect. Help all you want – but stay within the law as much as possible, and one way of doing that is to not attract attention.
About the author: Attorney Farhad Sethna has practiced law for over 25 years. Since 1996, he has been an adjunct professor of Immigration Law at the University of Akron, School of Law, in Akron, Ohio. He is a frequent speaker at Continuing Legal Education and professional development seminars on various immigration-related topics. His practice is limited to immigration and small business. With offices in Cuyahoga Falls, Akron and Dover, Ohio, Attorney Sethna represents clients in all types of immigration cases. Our number is: (330)-384-8000. Please send your general immigration questions to AttorneySethna@immigration-america.com. We will try to answer as many questions as possible.