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Views from the Right column: Should we or shouldn't we?

D.M. OKeefe

The impact of declaring sanctuary status is something both Pierce and St. Croix county residents need to carefully consider before local governments take action. Do any of us know what our elected officials and law enforcement agencies think about immigration laws?

The term sanctuary has no legal definition. Most of us think of it as "safe harbor." But how would police and governments apply that concept? Would they simply not ask for immigration status? Or guarantee equal protection under U.S. law with all the rights of citizens? What happens when cities like River Falls exist in two counties, one sanctuary and one not?

Sanctuary for illegal immigrants is considered freedom from exposure, harassment, detainment, and deportation—freedom that allows them to work and live under federal radar in a "don't ask, don't tell" system. Only a suspected criminal offense might trigger a call for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intervention.

Stopped for traffic offenses, illegal immigrants are unlikely to be asked for status if they have a driver's license. Those arrested for driving without a license are more at risk to be questioned. Driving under the influence is sure to trigger a background check for outstanding criminal warrants. If detained persons are in the ICE databank, ICE might be alerted. ICE then returns notification to law enforcement to hold the persons for transfer into federal jurisdiction.

It's easy to see how failure to identify occurs. Illegal status is discovered only if employers, law enforcement, school officials, or others ask the right questions. Stolen social security cards, fake drivers' licenses, and forged green cards can end questioning or be overlooked. Even in criminal cases, false identification can prevent law enforcement from learning true identities and status. Sometimes, as in Madison, ICE isn't contacted or a suspect isn't detained as ICE requests.

So what happens when local government favors sanctuary status? Should policies spell out protections for illegal immigrants? Or simply imply "no questions asked?" Does advertising by announcement, road sign, or word of mouth attract more illegal immigrants than would otherwise arrive? It's reasonable to assume that arrivals increase if family or friends, legal or illegal, are already settled in a community, or if an established sanctuary network provides directions or transportation to a safe house.

Undocumented workers likely exist in every Wisconsin county. Businesses make it possible by valuing low wages over federal laws. Organizations make assisting those they see as victims of social injustice a moral imperative. Many residents don't want to make disadvantaged lives worse. To some, preventing discovery is a mission of a modern underground railroad.

Economics and compassion are powerful incentives to maintain a broken immigration system and an artificial economy. They ignore the migrants' dangerous passage to Wisconsin and the annual cost to the state, estimated by the Federation of American Immigration Reform at $568.5 million. All children here, legal or not, must receive a free public education. That's about $9,300 per student.

We should be asking why some Wisconsin businesses depend on illegal labor to survive. Are owners profiting from, or just surviving by, ignoring labor laws? Should citizens be forced to subsidize illegal residents who don't contribute as much to the state economy as they benefit from state and federal assistance? Shouldn't using or providing false identification be prosecuted and federal laws respected?

If local governments want to declare sanctuary status, all citizens deserve to learn about and discuss the economic, social, and legal consequences. They then can vote to accept or reject implementation. That's the way representative democracies are supposed to work.