Sanctuary Cities, Maricopa’s county sheriff, and hospitality

For the past two years, I’ve had my students read Derrida’s essay On Cosmopolitanism in learning about multi-cultural cities, set along with assorted material from immigration opponents on “sanctuary cities.”

My planning students, for the most part, are good liberals, and tend to side with Derrida, but are shocked when they discover his argument does not allow for permanence; Derrida grants rights to sanctuary, but he was not prepared to extend rights to permanent residency. You would think that such a position would have made him more popular with those on the political right, but no.

I’m thinking about these issues this morning as I read through the Yahoo news story about the Maricopa County sheriff’s legal troubles in Federal court. Beyond his wild-west appeals to conservatives, the guy is having documents shredded. There’s a little hint: if you have to have destroy evidence, you’re probably not a worthy custodian of due process or the rule of law.

Every year, I’m consistently surprised that so few of my students develop consequentialist arguments against the criticisms of sanctuary cities, and Maricopa County’s sheriff rather embodies the consequentialist argument. You can, indeed, make chasing down immigrants who are here illegally your priority, but there are opportunity costs of your department’s staff time. For places like Los Angeles or New York, our police forces would do nothing else if catching immigrants were the priority–because the only practical way to do that is to conduct yourself the way Arpaio appears to have done: start checking everybody who looks brown to you. Even if you believe strongly that those who have entered the US illegally have committed a crime and are a threat to communitarian US identity and values, that’s a pretty stark deviation from constitutional practice.

But to the consequentialist point: to be so active in places like Los Angeles or New York would leave the police time to do little else. I already live in a world where somebody breaking in had better have a gun if I want the police to care and where calling 911 means you are going to be put on hold, and you’re going to stay on hold a lot longer than anybody who might have occasion to call 911 wants to be on hold. Forget about ever seeing a policeman over things like bike theft or property damage like graffiti. They just don’t have the time or the staff.

There are some small cities on Bill O’Reilly’s list of sanctuary cities, but not that many, and some that look small, like Cicero, IL, are part of much bigger regions like Chicago.

So the question becomes why, exactly, O’Reilly and some conservatives think that municipal police forces even have the wherewithal to prevent cities becoming sanctuary cities even if they wanted to, or whether people like O’Reilly simply make these assertions about cities for political gain and to appeal to conservative rural constituencies, who may view places like LA and New York as antithetical to American identity and values in the first place.