Sanctuary Cities are Sacred Spaces

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Posted By KFJ


There are over 200 so called “sanctuary cities” in America today. What does it mean to be one them? That is a question that will elicit many diverse opinions. As a philosopher and theologian, I think it is more than a place of legal refuge and protection. It is a holy section of the country, i.e., a room in the building where one may not enter unless they are willing to humble themselves before a power greater than themselves. To be a “sanctuary city” is to be a site of reverence where everyone is equal before the Creator. It means to see past someone’s nationality and to look for their humanity. It means to ignore someone’s place of birth and seek out their place of residence as a global citizen. It is that area in the building where people are treated with radical respect. No one here has the right to touch another innocent person without their permission. No one here has the right to judge anyone else because of their skin color, accent, citizenship status, or nation of birth- not in the sanctuary. “Sanctuary cities” are more than a proclamation. They are a sacred zone of egalitarian love. 


Thankfully Rochester, NY is not alone regionally in making this bold declaration. Syracuse, Ithaca, Albany, and NYC have also declared themselves as official “sanctuary cities.”  And boy is it needed today. Due to unchecked persecution against immigrants, migrants, and refugees by the Trump Administration, these zones of egalitarian love are needed now more than any time in the past 30 years or so. The facts are incontrovertible. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, data from ICE states that: “In 2016 in the Buffalo region, which includes Syracuse, there were 1,103 administrative arrests by ICE. Of those, 160 were non-criminals. For 2017, there were 396 non-criminal arrests by ICE out of 1,494 total.” After weeks of inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric, the implementation of sweeping raids across the country, attempted travel bans on Muslim travelers, and now a National Guard deployment to the border, just four months into 2018 and it appears that those apprehension and deportation numbers are going to skyrocket. 

Slate journalist Jamelle Bouie has written, “This is all part of a larger strategy to create an atmosphere of fear and desperation for unauthorized immigrants. It’s behind President Trump’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and end deportation protections for immigrants from Haiti and El Salvador.” 

Bouie went on to report: “While the overall number of border removals – those caught trying to cross the border – dropped last year, as a result of economic trends and Trump’s hard-line policies, the proportion of interior removals undertaken by ICE increased. Most deportations still involve immigrants from a handful of Latin American countries, but the number of deportees from other nations rose 24 percent in Trump’s first year.”

This is reality. This is America in the year 2018. 


What if “sanctuary cities” were viewed as arcs of salvation? What if they were viewed as vessels of mercy? What if they were viewed as something more than a proclamation? If we think about sanctuary in this way, these cities are not just public spaces where federal laws will not be obeyed. These cities are holy remnants of our country where higher laws will be followed. It is almost as if the nation has certain rooms with altars. If the “sanctuary cities” are parts of the building where one may not enter unless they are willing to humble themselves before some power greater than themselves, the true meaning of this declaration can be felt not just over Western New York, but all over the world. I say all over the universe! That is what it means. That is why Rochester is one of them. It is our city’s legacy. It is our city’s only destiny.

George Cassidy Payne

George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer and a domestic violence counselor. He live and works in Rochester, NY. 


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