A Look at the Spin of Sanctuary Cities
The concept of sanctuary — providing a safe haven for people fleeing oppression — has a long history and is now in the news because President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off federal funds to communities that take on this designation.
Rochester is now updating a sanctuary resolution it has had on the books for three decades when Rochester was at the center of a controversy about the federal government trying to deport Alejandro Gomez, a refugee from El Salvador, who sought asylum here.
What galvanized the community — and assured approval of the 1986 resolution declaring Rochester a “city of sanctuaries” — was the arrest of Gomez four days before the City Council vote.
Back then, Gomez and his wife Leticia were walking down Main Street in downtown Rochester on a late Friday afternoon, with the Memorial Day weekend approaching.
“Suddenly a man pushed his way between them and, turning to Alejandro, said, ‘How are you, Alejandro?’ Instantly, Alejandro was surrounded by 10 plainclothes men and quickly thrust into one of four long black limousines at the curb,” Sanctuary Committee member Gail Mott later wrote in her account of this history.
And Mott noted: “Leticia was left standing there, stunned, and wondering whether she was in the U.S. or El Salvador.”
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service had initially arrested Alejandro and Leticia Gomez almost 18 months earlier for illegal entry into the United States, but he was arrested this second time — and had his bail upped from $3,000 to $50,000 — because the INS alleged that he was a “potential threat to the United States.”
Not only was the higher bail money raised within 24 hours — from about 170 donors — but council members passed the sanctuary resolution by a 6-2 vote, with one abstention.
But Gomez felt so vulnerable that he fled with his family to Canada seven weeks later.
“‘I was sure I would not get asylum because they supported the Salvadoran government,” said Gomez in a recent phone interview from Fort Erie, Ontario, where he and his family continue to live.
However, we at The Contemplative Thinker are still at odds as to whether or not Gomes ever paid his debt and Leticia’s for skipping on a bail account? This would indeed state a lot about Gomez’s character.
Then and now, the council’s resolution would not stop federal authorities from arresting undocumented refugees — but it represents a declaration of principles to rally behind. Now the spinning starts!
“It is a sense that the community understands the anguish of being a refugee,” Mott recalled.
The spinning is that this Rochester will want to argue in court that they have the rights to establish the Declaration. As for us, we know that Rochester can declare anything they want; subsequently, it must be in accordance with the Constitution and within the federal system which INS was at the time.
President Donald Trump’s executive order — on hold as it is contested in the courts — to ban the entry of people from seven predominately Muslim nations for 90 days and refugees from all nations for 120 days, with those from Syria banned indefinitely, has had a similar effect.
“Precipitous actions on the part of the government that appears to be irrational to the public are met with a huge level of distrust,” said Catillaz, who represented Gomez and is past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
While the definition of sanctuary varies with communities, the one approved by the council told of Rochester’s “long tradition of support for the vulnerable and dispossessed, as exemplified by Rochester citizens’ strong acceptance of Frederick Douglass.” Is someone playing the race card here?
The Rochester Sanctuary Committee began forming in 1983 when religious-based sanctuary groups were springing up around the nation.
As Time magazine, in a 1983 assessment, noted: “The concept of sanctuary in a holy place was known in ancient Athens. Today’s sanctuary advocates often quote Isaiah: ‘Hide the outcasts, betray not the fugitive.'”
Time told how while there were about 250,000 undocumented Central Americans in the United States, just a small percentage of asylum applications were approved and about 24,700 Salvadorans had been deported since 1980.