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Guest: Iowa City should be a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants

BY PAUL DEATON - GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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Iowa City should become a sanctuary city, and here is why: It would be a step toward recognizing that seeking the welfare of one is seeking the welfare of all.

A sanctuary city is a place in which a formal sanctuary policy is written and passed by a local government body in the form of a resolution, ordinance, or policy. In sanctuary cities, sanctuary policies instruct city employees not to notify the federal government of the presence of illegal aliens living in their communities. The policies also would end the distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Some examples of sanctuary cities are Takoma Park, Md.; Sacramento, Calif.; Worthington, Minn.; Chicago; and Columbus, Ohio.

Every day, people notice the international community drawn here by the UI. They also notice the increase in the number of immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America. We find landlords rent to immigrants more often and schools enroll more immigrant children. People who work in social safety-net organizations such as the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic, the Crisis Center Food Bank, and the Broadway Neighborhood Center see a significant number of immigrant clients.

Public-health needs staff able to speak Spanish to work effectively with immigrant communities. An increasing number of churches are being founded by immigrants. This is in Iowa City.

There is consensus in the community that immigration reform is needed. There are social problems related to our flawed immigration system. Native-born workers have seen a decline in standard of living. Businesses want access to inexpensive labor provided by immigrants. Undocumented workers compete with native-born/naturalized workers on an uneven playing field for jobs. Guest-worker and work-visa programs replace permanent jobs with temporary jobs without benefits or the legal protections guaranteed to most U.S. workers.

Undocumented immigrants are most likely to receive abuse and mistreatment in social situations and in housing and employment. There is a language barrier, and skin color may be different, resulting in discrimination. These are the symptoms of a community in conflict. How can this conflict be addressed?

Some in the faith and labor communities believe we should seek common ground. United States immigration law and enforcement are flawed, and there should be legal reform to facilitate immigration. For practical reasons, the law should limit immigration. Worker exploitation is an issue, and steps should be taken to avoid such exploitation. Crimes against immigrants should be prosecuted as hate crimes. Compliance with existing law is a place where people can come together.

At the same time, there are polarizing issues regarding immigration — notably, the idea of amnesty for undocumented immigrants. The idea of sanctuary cities may be a way to address the issues surrounding our flawed immigration system.

By declaring Iowa City a sanctuary city and creating a sanctuary policy, the community would become more welcoming to immigrants and address the fear of authorities, language and culture barriers, racism, and worker exploitation that often cause friction between immigrants and others in the community.

Making Iowa City a sanctuary city would be no panacea. It would be a first step toward improving the international community that is Iowa City.

Paul Deaton is a member of Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility and chairman of the Johnson County Board of Health.


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