Newsletter: Opinion: In defense of ‘sanctuary cities’ for immigrants

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers looking for a fugitive migrant question his mother during a morning raid on his residence in Riverside on Aug. 12.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, Sept. 19. As you all know, today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. With that important observation out of the way, let's look back at the week in Opinion.

Contrarianism is something of an art form in punditry, so it's not terribly surprising to see an article with the headline "Why sanctuary cities must exist" on The Times' Op-Ed page. But English professor and author Elizabeth Allen's piece doesn't just defend the unpopular actions taken by cities like San Francisco on the enforcement of immigration laws as a writing exercise.

Rather, Allen, delves into the long history of cities and institutions that protect people "when the law can't meet the deeper demands of justice."  She writes:

Our legal system is never perfectly responsive to people's circumstances, and sanctuary, while not included in our statutes, has often been invoked in the United States. In particular, groups who have been the subject of prejudicial laws have sought and used sanctuary, sometimes to evade what they considered to be an unfair law and sometime to issue broad public challenges to injustices within the legal system.

Indeed, President Obama made reference to this tradition in his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was gunned down at Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., in June: “Over the course of centuries,” the president said, “black churches served as hush harbors … praise houses … rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement.”

In the 1980s, a new sanctuary movement offered safe harbor to hundreds of people fleeing from Central American violence. La Placita, the Roman Catholic church at Olvera Street in L.A., was a major participant. A lawsuit brought by sanctuary advocates, American Baptist Churches vs. Richard Thornburgh, made it more difficult for the U.S. to base asylum decisions on foreign policy concerns rather than individuals' circumstances.

The sanctuary cities of the 2000s are part of this American tradition. Some municipalities deliberately lay claim to the title explicitly to protect immigrants. Others simply wish to avoid potential legal problems that might stem from detaining people without full authority. Many, including Los Angeles, cite the difficulty of policing the city when the undocumented are afraid any contact with the authorities could end in deportation.

Instead of attacking sanctuary cities, Congress should be listening to their message.

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Carly Fiorina shines, Donald Trump loses some of his luster: That's the immediate assessment of columnist Doyle McManus after Wednesday's GOP candidates' debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Trump now looks vulnerable, and we have Fiorina to thank, McManus writes: "Fiorina guaranteed herself plenty of post-debate television replays with her crisp answer to a question about Trump's remark -- 'Look at that face' -- that she wasn't good-looking enough to be president. 'I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,' Fiorina said." L.A. Times

Speaking of Republican candidates, and with the debate this week having taken place at the Reagan Presidential Library, it's the perfect time to make the obligatory comparisons between the sainted 40th president and the conservative candidates running today. Lawrence J. Korb, who served in the Pentagon under Ronald Reagan, writes that 2016 candidates have little in common with his former boss. In letters published on Wednesday and Thursday, readers share their memories and assessments of the Gipper, both positive and negative.

Democrats who watched the debate might have smirked about the anti-vaccine nonsense parroted by some of the candidates, but liberals who accuse Republicans of being "anti-science" might want to look in the mirror, writes historian Jonathan Zimmerman. When it comes to vaccination and genetically engineered food, Zimmerman writes, liberals are just as prone to buying scientific falsehoods as are the Republicans who question climate science. L.A. Times

Joe Biden, savior of the Democrats? They should hope not, writes columnist Jonah Goldberg. Hillary Clinton is tanking in the polls, President Obama is unpopular and polarizing, and some on the left are holding out hope that the 72-year-old vice president can rescue the Democrats in 2016. It doesn't look good for the incumbent party, Goldberg says. L.A. Times

A hot, dangerous "new normal" for California: An editorial in the Sacramento Bee takes a grim view of the fires burning in much of California. These sentences nicely (and disturbingly) sum up the situation in our state: "Imagine all of Sacramento, all of Fresno and half of Los Angeles exploding into a towering inferno. And those are just three of about a dozen large wildfires raging throughout the state." Sacramento Bee

A kid shows up to school with a clock. He gets arrested. That's all we need to know about what happened to 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed in Irving, Texas, to conclude that he was treated absurdly and wrongly. But there are also concerns that Mohamed, a Muslim, was suspected of bringing a bomb to school because of his ethnicity and his faith. Prejudice or none, Ahmed deserves an apology. L.A. Times

Guess when this was in Los Angeles: "The Lakers were on top of the world as NBA champs, and the Raiders were scraping the bottom. Crack cocaine and AIDS were grinding their twin corrosive paths through town. Hundreds of thousands of California immigrants in the country illegally were filing their paperwork under the amnesty law that President Reagan had just signed." Patt Morrison, ahead of Pope Francis' trip to the United States next week, looks back in a way only she can at Pope John Paul II's 1987 visit to Los Angeles. L.A. Times

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On a personal note, I had mentioned last week that I may go on family leave for a month starting this week. Turns out that my leave was delayed, but it will (definitely) start next week. As I wrote in the last newsletter, my colleague Matthew Fleischer will be writing the newsletter in my absence. Thank you for reading.