There is a lot of misinformation out there over so-called sanctuary cities.
In fact, there is no hard and fast definition of what constitutes a city that wants to be a sanctuary. In general, it means local law enforcement won’t detain a person based solely on immigration status. It can also mean benefits, like food stamps and other subsidies, are extended to everyone regardless of citizenship.
The Bethlehem Town Board grappled with the idea on Feb. 8 in front of one of the largest crowds in recent memory.
In the end, after hearing the opinion of 58 residents, the board opted to direct the Police Department to just keep doing what it has been doing, or not doing.
Police will not actively seek out illegal immigrants, and will not ask crime victims or witnesses their immigration status unless it is relevant to an investigation.
It’s a common sense approach.
Town police officers do not work for the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service and have no business hunting around Bethlehem making sure everyone has a green card.
Also, immigration status should not matter to police while investigating a crime. For example, officers should be no less vigilant investigating a hypothetical armed robbery on Delaware Avenue if the victim were a lawyer named Smith or an apple picker named Gonzalez.
Police officers, we trust, would have this frame of mind anyway, but fears of deportation can and do hinder their work.
Take the 2014 quadruple homicide of a Chinese family living in Guilderland.
Authorities are no closer to catching the killer today than they were when they found Jin Chen, his wife Hai Uan Li and their two children Anthony and Eddy slaughtered in their Western Avenue home on Oct. 8, 2014.
Despite District Attorney David Soares extending a vow of immunity from deportation to any potential witness, none came forward.
He attributed the lack of cooperation to cultural differences, like a language barrier, but also to an overwhelming fear of law enforcement among the community, many of whom are, he said, here illegally.
What is more important? Catching and deporting someone washing dishes without a green card? Or catching someone evil enough to kill a family a four?
How to convincingly convey that message to those who are breaking the law, and who struggle to speak and understand our language is a difficult, if not a nearly impossible, task.
It’s made more difficult by the anti-immigration sentiments sweeping the country. But also, since the murders happened long before President Trump screamed “Build the Wall,” exemplifies why immigration is more than a rallying cry for those on the far left and far right. It does impact real people.
This is a nation of immigrants, and while the goal is to have all of those wanting to live here follow the proper legal channels, we don’t think it’s the responsibility of local police departments to make sure that happens.
They have more important things to worry about.