Make Louisville a sanctuary city now!

Jan 31, 2017 at 12:05 pm
Make Louisville a sanctuary city now!

Louisville has branded itself as a compassionate city and possibility city. It’s time that we prove we are both, and formally declare Louisville as a sanctuary city.

It’s the right thing to do for our economy, and it’s the humane thing to do for thousands of Louisville families.

What if every city in the nation declared itself a sanctuary city, defying President Trump’s threats to cut off federal aid? Cincinnati joined the growing number Monday.

That same day in Louisville, Mayor Greg  Fischer did the right thing by sponsoring a rally, and he gave a moving speech — possibly the best of his political career — expressing all of that sentiment. He even reiterated that Louisville will not spend our resources enforcing federal law. But with the word “sanctuary” glowing on a rally-goers lighted sign above his head, he stopped short of saying it.

“This is a pivotal moment. A decision point, where we will determine the course of our country,” he said. Our question is: Mayor Fischer, what is that decision? Are we a sanctuary city or not? There is a plausible reason for not becoming one. Faced with the possible loss of federal grants, Louisville could pay for being a sanctuary city. Fischer’s decision to not use the word could be a careful political calculus, but we deserve to hear that from him.

For proponents and opponents alike, understand that there is no official definition or requirement to be a sanctuary city. There is no sign-up sheet. Becoming a sanctuary city could be an actual law or a simple declaration. Our city could commit to something as strong and bold as allowing immigrants to attain a driver’s license. Or we could do something as simple as refusing to spend city resources enforcing federal laws — the federal government has its own enforcement agencies. So if someone has a broken taillight, our police write a ticket, but don’t ask about immigration status.

And before critics jump to the assumption that this means harboring criminals, sanctuary supporters from other, larger cities say that the immigrant community is more likely to report real criminals if they don’t fear working with law enforcement. And it makes sense. If you see a crime being committed, would you risk being deported?

Yes, criminals are criminals. But the way America treats minorities, immigrants and even refugees, we make too many criminals out of people who have done nothing wrong, but are doing whatever they can to survive and fit in… and to not be noticed. Above all, nobody should lose his or her family because of where they were born. Humanity is not based on citizenship.

Of course, tough-talking detractors — and those terrified by the xenophobia created by Trump and conservative talk radio — will accuse liberals like me of being bleeding-heart suckers who want to give away taxpayer dollars. Fine, if you want to ignore the inhumanity of our current system, you cannot ignore the indispensable role immigrants play in our economy.

Just last month, Fischer and GLI made a joint statement illustrating the importance of foreign-born immigrants to the future of Louisville’s economy. They unveiled an “action plan,” based on marketing and engagement — with organizations, entrepreneurs and other institutions — to attract and grow the immigrant community’s role in the Louisville workforce and business sectors. According to Fischer, the city is relying on that community to help fill nearly 30,000 open jobs in the city, the current workforce gap locally.

That workforce gap is in addition to the current role of immigrants in our region’s economy. As of 2015, there were about 63,000 foreign-born residents in the Metro Louisville area — about 5 percent of the population. They are nearly a fifth of the education, health and manufacturing workforce, 15 percent of art, entertainment and hospitality labor and 13 percent of professional and business services. We cannot risk losing that segment of our workforce, on top of the current open positions.

Louisville needs to be on the right side of this issue. Now it is more important than ever to take a stand for immigrants, in the face of a Trump administration that is hellbent on separating the immigrant community from the American dream. Trump’s threats to immigrants and cities looking to embrace those communities needs to be met in kind. An action plan will not suffice, we need an act of resistance.

We need to declare ourselves a sanctuary city.  •