Open Letter to Peoria
Dear Mayor Ardis and Peoria City Council Members:
Peoria should become a sanctuary city.
There are two compelling factors why we should; the first is moral.
Contrary to what some fake news sites indicate, sanctuary cities enforce all laws and maintain community safety. They are not havens for undocumented criminals.
Sanctuary cities reflect the moral fabric of our country.
Sanctuary cities welcome and support immigrants and have decided they will not use local resources to participate in federal crackdowns and detention requests by federal authorities unless there is a court warrant. They will not profile suspected undocumented people. A federal judge in Illinois has ruled it is unconstitutional for federal officials to ask local jails to detain people due to suspicion of undocumented status without a warrant.
If an undocumented person commits a crime, that person is prosecuted, not protected in a sanctuary city.
Refugees do not increase the risk of terrorism. Refugees are thoroughly vetted before admission to the United States. The U.S. State Department has reported a dozen refugees arrested or deported for terror-related activity in the past 15 years out of 800,000 refugees.
Eureka College history professor Junius Rodriguez said there is a clear connection between social justice, sanctuary cities and the Underground Railroad, “the greatest social justice movement in the history of this country.”
He said there were laws to prevent helping fugitive slaves, but those laws were legal, not moral.
“Another disturbing notion (today) is deporting children who came to this county with their undocumented parents,” Rodriguez said. “These are children who grow up and become productive citizens, and they should have the opportunity to do so.”
Fake news and misinformation about undocumented people highlight the shifting terrain of fact-based truths.
“Facts don’t have the status they once did. This is troubling for me as a historian,” Rodriguez said. “We interpret the past based on fact, yet in the present facts are fluid.”
Donald Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities. He has called for the deportation of 11 million undocumented people. He has called for a registry of Muslims living in America, a ban on Muslims entering this country and has called Muslims a danger, contributing to terror and crime.
Facts do not support those prejudiced positions. There has been a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in this country following Trump’s remarks. Our shame should be deep.
The second compelling reason we should become a sanctuary city is economic. It always seems difficult to support a moral position on an economic argument. Moral decisions should stand without economic foundations, but in terms of refugees and sanctuary cities, the facts are clear.
Cities around the country have welcomed refugees to turn around declining population and stimulate the economy. Utica, N.Y., and Rutland, Vt., have active resettlement programs to revitalize their local economies. New York City and Chicago are proud sanctuary cities, even in the face of intimidating threats.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, immigrants made up 13.7 percent of the U.S. population in 2015 and their total economic output was 14.7 percent of the U.S. economy. They have a negligible impact on lowering wages and a positive impact on the labor market.
Caterpillar Inc. makes a major contribution to Peoria’s diverse population. CEO Doug Oberhelman spoke at a Peace for Peoria event May 2016 and said:
“I want to make clear that Caterpillar has succeeded globally because of much more than our products. It’s because we welcome employees, customers, dealers, suppliers and contractors without regard to race, religion, national origin, color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age or disability.
There’s no room inside Caterpillar for intolerance. There should be no room for intolerance in Peoria either.”
“We walk down the blind alley of prejudice at our peril. Nothing good can come of it, absolutely nothing.”
While Oberhelman was not endorsing the notion of becoming a sanctuary city in his remarks, he was referencing both the moral and economic value of diversity.
Discrimination weakens us as a community and a country.
In his July 2016 Community Word article “Immigrants could infuse life into dying central Illinois towns,” George Hopkins, professor emeritus of history at Western Illinois University, concluded:
“Peoria and the small towns in central Illinois could use a jolt of life from those fleeing death. It only takes determined U.S. citizens ready to help their fellow human beings.”
Xenophobia is an affront to the founding principles of our nation, and the responsibility to honor and defend all Americans, both documented and undocumented, falls on our shoulders.