Opposition to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s policy positions among his critics often seems inspired by reflex rather than reflection, and there’s no better example of that than the issue of local governments disobeying federal laws that require their cooperation with federal authorities on immigration enforcement.
Somerville, Massachusetts, Mayor Joseph Curtatone, a Democrat, became unhinged after Jindal said public officials should be held liable, culminating in their arrests, for overseeing “sanctuary” policies — an intentional failure of local authorities to work with federal agencies on immigration matters. Curtatone implemented such a policy last year in his Boston suburb, where a third of the population is foreign-born.
Among the more statesmanlike thoughts Curtatone offered via a radio tirade were that the governor’s statement appealed to the lowest common denominator, which was the equivalent of Jindal’s brain, and that “fearmonger” Jindal was inciting a mob. The mayor also invited Jindal to “come and get me.” Note that rarely are fulminating politicians a one-off Mount. St. Helens; they usually have nutted up in the years prior to gaining a big profile. Curtatone is no exception, having once declared his city would stop using the term “illegal” to refer to such aliens because it hurt their feelings. In an Orwellian twist, he once called his sanctuary policy the morally right thing to do.
Never mind, of course, that typically, sanctuary cities have higher proportions of immigrants mirrored by higher crime rates. Given that population studies show the nation’s jails contain disproportionately more noncitizens than their incidence in the general population and that research utilizing a sample of diverse local jurisdictions revealed the proportion of illegal aliens jailed is much higher than their estimated population proportion, it’s likely that sanctuary cities have even higher and more disproportionate numbers of illegal aliens imprisoned. While the valid data about this are uncoordinated, overall, they seem to indicate that increased numbers of illegal aliens elevate criminal activity.
In other words, Jindal is entirely correct when he notes the threat to public safety posed by sanctuary policies. He’s also right that public officials who support sanctuary policies are negligent. Sanctuary enthusiasts who foam at the mouth and counterattack after being called out know this, and they do so out of shame. Whether these officials should be arrested if their public safety philosophy forces the release of illegal aliens who then commit violent acts is another matter. There are, after all, less dramatic disincentives available. For example, the state could deny public safety funds to local jurisdictions that have sanctuary policies in place. That might coax these governments out of their destructive choices.
Whether such an approach would make New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman reverse course on their sanctuary policies is another matter. But beyond the moral imperative of protecting the public, there is the rule of law which, by these officials’ refusal to follow the demands of federal statutes, indicates their disdain of it — an unattractive quality in a politician. You don’t have to be a fool for being wrong on policy, but when in the process you ignore the law when you see fit, it makes you a dangerous one to the democratic polity you supposedly serve.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at LSU in Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana politics. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics (www.between-lines.com) and, when the Louisiana Legislature is in session, another about legislation (www.laleglog.com). His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.