Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Baltimore Sanctuary City and the federal government

It doesn't fit the current narrative but the idea of cities as sanctuaries against federal crack-down on illegal immigration was born during the Obama administration because of his dual strategy of enforcing immigration laws and borders patrols while also welcoming immigrants  through the Dream Act and accepting refugees.
More deportations under Obama than under Bush

The matter of sanctuary cities was already a national dispute in July of 2015 year when the House passed a bill that would deny federal funding for any City denying collaboration with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bill then failed in the Senate and never went anywhere.

Baltimore's Mayor and her Police Commissioner aligned a desire to grow Baltimore back by 10,000 households in 10 years with a 2012 promise and executive order not to have local police crack down on immigrants by asking for their immigration status in the course of routine police work with certain exception for felons and persons on federal watch lists. The "sanctuary city" policies were an attempt to signal to the world that Baltimore welcomes immigrants. The Mayor affirmed immigrants last week that those policies will continue.

Several US legacy cities have benefited from a significant influx of new residents resulting from legal and illegal immigration. Immigrants tend to concentrate where economic opportunity is high, other immigrants of the same ethnic origin have already established themselves and where cost of living is not prohibitive. Baltimore with its high poverty and unemployment rates has long lagged behind other cities in attracting immigrants. Johns Hopkins University and Hospital have long attracted legal immigrants as students, post doctorates or researches creating a diverse and multi-ethnic climate in a certain areas of the City. On the side of lower skilled workers, the Broadway corridor and Highlandtown slowly but steadily became destinations for Latinos especially from Central America. A study for Baltimore City conducted with the help of the Abell Foundation put numbers on Baltimore's renaissance as a "port of entry".
Since 2000, Baltimore’s reputation as a city of immigrants is being revived. This new wave of immigrants most often arrive not from Europe, as many did a century ago, but from Central and South America, Asia, and Africa. The increase in foreign new arrivals has led the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings to name Baltimore a “reemerging gateway.”3 Due to this new wave of international arrivals, Baltimore’s immigrant population has increased by 20,000, to more than 45,000, 7.3% of the city’s population. (US Census, American Community Survey)
Hispanic population distribution in Baltimore
(Source: BNIA)

Media are currently speculating about a showdown between the new administration in Washington and the estimated 250 or so sanctuary cities. A show-down would feed the narrative of the divided country with  the role of heroes and villains assigned according to political conviction. There are those who are convinced that tolerating illegal immigrants is the beginning of general lawlessness.
The Left would have you believe that this is hateful, that’s it’s racist, that it is somehow wrong to deport a person who comes here illegally and then commits an additional crime. But plenty of the offenses that bring people into contact with police (robbery, violent crime, drugs) are things that citizens would be detained for anyway. Why should American taxpayers foot the bill for food, housing, healthcare, and clothing of someone in a penitentiary, rather than give that person a one-way ticket home? (Outset Magazine)
Then there are those who think that persecuting undocumented workers is just the beginning of ethnic cleansing.
"This idea that ICE can be your local law enforcement butts up against constitutional issues," said Sundrop Carter, organizing director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition. (CBS News)
The truth is not in the middle between those two extremes, it is more complex. The presence of immigrants who entered the country illegally is not simply a function of an individual breaking the law, it is a function of the US economy depending on a set-up in which illegals are openly attracted and then employed with a wink and a nod by industries that clearly benefit from them.
Absolute numbers and percentages of foreign born population

That cities may seek them out for augmenting their often shrinking population plays only in a small way into this system. At the core the longstanding practice of employing illegal immigrants provides a win for folks coming from economically depressed countries and a win for industries here that have a hard time filling positions with Americans. The fact that the system is based on breaking the law is not satisfactory and most can agree on that. However, the fix should make the law such that it properly reflects reality and not to inflict significant harm on a great number of individuals and on the economy at large. In light of the debate and past deportations the number of illegal immigrants has leveled off with those coming from Mexico drastically shrinking. The reduced influx leads to the fact that now over 60% of illegal immigrants have been here for ten years or more, for them deportation option is less and less a viable option.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

The recent debates about immigration have shown that the topic isn't discussed any longer in rational terms that address facts and practicalities. The issue has become a matter of political purity with each side claiming an ethical monopoly. Regardless whether one looks at immigration economically, morally or from the pragmatic perspective of a community looking for new residents, there is very little that would justify drastic deportation measures, even though, the wink and nod system certainly has also negative effects. It isn't so much that immigration is taking jobs away from Americans as that available illegal workers depress wages because they can be blackmailed and exploited without having proper recourse. That wage depression is, of course, the another reason why employers, especially in seasonal industries, like the status quo. Often forgotten, the exploitation and the two class worker system make the illegals themselves victims.
Spreading fear with numbers

While one can agree that the presence of undocumented workers has two sides, how the problem is solved touches on the very DNA of  the American society. At stake is the long-held American aspiration to a society that is as open and free as possible. Is there still consensus around this goal? This is not small potatoes by any measure.

The issue has a lot of meaning to Baltimore, a city built on immigration almost from its beginning.
As of 2011, more than 45,000 foreign-born immigrants called Baltimore home. The majority of New Americans, more than 75%, have arrived since 1990. 52% of the foreign-born population has arrived since 2000.6 The largest group came from Latin American countries, including substantial populations from Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and growing numbers from South America. While the Hispanic community is spread throughout many neighborhoods in the city, they are heavily clustered east of downtown around Patterson Park and Highlandtown. The city also has more than 10,000 immigrants from Asia, with significant populations from China, Korea, India, and the Philippines. Baltimore’s Asian populations are clustered around Johns Hopkins’ Homewood and medical campuses, as well as in downtown and midtown. Undocumented immigrants are likely under-represented in these numbers. While the census bureau does its best to count all residents of a jurisdiction, multiple impediments exist that make accounting for everyone challenging. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that the state of Maryland had approximately 275,000 undocumented immigrants as of 2010 (City Report)
Highlandtown bus stop
(Photo: Andy Dahl, Southeast CDC)
Meanwhile, it is hard to overestimate the amount of woe and anxiety the election result has caused especially among urban minorities. Cities which protect a group that is being blamed for economical problems and threatened with a complete upending of their lives and that of their families do not only act pragmatically, they do the right thing. Nobody benefits from targeting workers who themselves are the victims of a poorly functioning system. It is good to see Baltimore's leaders among those who have taken this position in the past stand ready to continue it even if it may cost them federal dollars.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The Role of Immigrants in Growing Baltimore (Baltimore City, Abell 2014)

Philly Voice: Mayors of 'sanctuary cities' say they'll fight Trump's plans, Nov 15, 16