It’s Time for Bozeman to Become a Sanctuary City

Bozeman Mayor Carson Taylor took time Thursday, Feb. 9 to issue a series of equivocating statements about proposals to designate Bozeman as a sanctuary city. He first stated thatthe word ‘sanctuary city’ has so many meanings that it’s not really functional.” Taylor went on to claim that Bozeman Police Department procedures are already roughly in line with any proposed sanctuary city ordinance. This seems to suggest that a sanctuary city designation is both functional and comprehensible, not the undefinable term Taylor implies it is.

He also claimed that he’d rather save time and allow the City Commission to focus on “local issues” – undocumented immigrants in Bozeman fearing to report crimes due to their immigration status apparently doesn’t quite make the cut for “local” – but he will take the time to issue a statement with no legal force proclaiming Bozeman as a “safe, welcoming and inclusive community.” Both of these reasons advanced by Taylor transparently sidestep the real issue: the benefits of adopting a sanctuary city resolution versus the Trump Administration’s threat to withdraw federal funding from any local jurisdiction which does so.

At the most basic level, the sanctuary city resolution advanced by local activists would bar local police from inquiring into the immigration status of anyone who has not committed a felony. The proposed ordinance would give undocumented immigrants the ability to report crimes and serve as witnesses without fear of deportation.

Similar measures undertaken by other cities have been shown to reduce crime by enhancing trust between local communities and law enforcement. By getting local police out of the business of enforcing federal immigration law, sanctuary city designations allow them to better carry out their core function: keeping their community safe and free of crime.

The major new factor in the sanctuary city debate, and the one cited by many Bozeman residents to explain their opposition to the proposed resolution, is the Trump Administration’s new executive order. The order seeks to deny federal funding to any local or municipal government refusing to use its police force to enforce federal immigration law. In Bozeman’s case, this would mean the loss of roughly $750,000 for the fiscal year; money that currently goes toward city functions such as rural domestic violence prevention ($122,000), drug enforcement ($69,000) and city sidewalks ($431,000).

This federal funding comprises only about two percent of the total revenue of the City of Bozeman; the city’s revenues currently exceed expenses by about $9.6 million. However, the fact that the removal of federal funding would only marginally decrease the city’s budget surplus isn’t even the best argument against this line of reasoning: the executive order stripping federal funding from sanctuary cities is itself unconstitutional and will likely fall in court.

The Trump Administration’s Jan. 25 executive order seeks to strip funding from “sanctuary jurisdictions” which have prohibited their local law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration law. This order directly violates precedents set in two major court cases: Printz v. United States (1997), which prohibits the federal government from forcing local authorities to enforce federal laws, and National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012), which establishes that large funding cuts cannot be used to “coerce” states into enforcing federal policies. This executive order is already on its way to being reversed with a lawsuit filed by the City of San Francisco on Jan. 31. Additionally, the mayors of New York and Los Angeles have promised to fight the order as well.

Without the argument based on the loss of federal funding, opponents of a sanctuary city resolution are left with nothing but their pre-existing assumptions about undocumented immigrants themselves. This is the real reason people oppose sanctuary city resolutions, and Taylor has undoubtedly heard from many such opponents and decided to back down rather than taking a strong stand against this casual bigotry.

While Montana voted by a 20-point margin for a man who described undocumented immigrants as “bringing drugs,” “bringing crime” and “rapists,” study after study has shown the opposite: aside from their initial “crime” in crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in search of a better life, undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than native-born U.S. citizens. This is the key point in the debate over sanctuary cities: the immigrants who would be protected by the resolution are no more likely to commit crimes than the native-born citizens who oppose it. It’s time to stop equivocating, recognize the shared humanity of undocumented immigrants and pass a resolution designating Bozeman a sanctuary city.