Sanctuary City – A Civil Disobedience on the Right Side of History

In his latest act of civil disobedience, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco is launching a media campaign to let undocumented immigrants in the City know that San Francisco does not support federal raids and promised to roll out a plan to give identification to all ‘illegal immigrants.’ Obviously, this goes against the recent tide of anti-illegal immigrant hysteria and federal immigration laws, which has authorities agitated.

This is not the first time that Mayor Newsom has expressed an interest in civil disobedience. His last act of civil disobedience involved giving marriage licenses to thousands of gay and lesbian couples, which only got disrupted by court orders. At that time, he was blamed for inspiring Republicans to place anti-gay marriage propositions on the 2004 presidential election ballots that led to a higher turnout of Evangelical Christians, and cost John Kerry the election. If the issue of ‘illegal immigration’ takes center stage in the coming elections and costs the Democrats the White House once again, Newsom and the pro-migrant movement would probably be blamed for having the ovaries to do the right thing.

Sanctuary derives from “a sacred place; a holy spot, a place of refuge and protection.” Since churches started giving sanctuary to asylum seekers from Central America in 1981, many colleges and cities also adopted similar policies. Today, granting sanctuary is no longer a religious exercise, but has taken on political significance-it is an act of civil disobedience, recognition that something is wrong with the status quo and that we need to act outside the boundaries of the Law to bring attention to and rectify those wrongs.

The modern-day sanctuary city can be likened to the Underground Railroads. This is when ‘illegal is illegal’ makes no sense – after all, abetting and aiding runaway slaves was illegal, being black and sitting in the front seats in buses was illegal, fighting against the British for independence was illegal-but do not tell us that these were acts of wrongdoing because that would belie and denigrate the existence of this very Nation-State. Do not tell us that upholding the laws of the United States is ALWAYS morally justifiable and the right thing to do, because we know that is not true.

While I can remain neutral on the subject of sanctuary cities, I support the act of civil disobedience. We have never made necessary changes to the unfair and unjust laws of the United States and we have never made progress in the true sense, without acts of civil disobedience. What makes this time any different?

When Gavin Newsom was making his big “gay gamble,” Barrington Wolff, an assistant professor of law at the University of California, Davis stated that “This is about not wanting to participate in an injustice. He is betting he will be on the right side of history on this issue.”

Ironic as it is, the ‘Right’ is not always right. I can honestly say that we are also on the right side of history on this issue.

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