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Syracuse’s Status as a Sanctuary City: What It Means to Immigrants and City Residents

Op/Ed By Kofi Quaye –


kofi_quayeSyracuse was declared a sanctuary city by Mayor Stephanie Miner in January this year.

Even as an immigrant, the sanctuary city declaration didn’t strike me as particularly interesting, or noteworthy at the time it was announced.

It didn’t seem to be such a big deal, until President Trump started talking about defunding sanctuary cities during the 2016 presidential campaign.

He criticized it as one of the policies of the Obama administration he would eliminate if elected.

And, when he was elected and arrived in Washington, he wasted no time making good on his promise.

He signed the now infamous travel ban, which was an executive order that had the unintended consequence of putting the spotlight on sanctuary cities, in an unexpected way.

The president’s decision to cut off funding to sanctuary cities was cited in the media as one aspect of a strategy the new administration was implementing to eliminate illegal immigration, and everything associated with it.

Sanctuary cities were part of the problem, as far as the new administration was concerned. And, cutting off funding to sanctuary cities was supposed to be one way of stopping illegal immigration.

Apparently, they considered it to be such a serious issue that they included it in the first legislative action the new administration took upon Trump taking office.

However, reaction to the travel ban, and the defunding of sanctuary cities, was fast and furious across the nation, both in the media and the general public.

The public outcry was especially evident on social media.

I don’t think the Trump administration got the kind of results they had in mind.

As a result, instead of becoming the law of the land, the travel ban set in motion such an intense media and public protest that the president was forced to back off – at least for now.

It was a major debacle for the new administration, but they made it very clear they would pursue it further.

They made no secret of the fact that they would continue to focus on immigration as a major area of concern in their search for a solution to the illegal immigration problem, in addition to building a wall on the Mexican border.

Meanwhile, Syracuse remains a sanctuary city. And, so do major cities like San Francisco, New York, Seattle and others. It means Syracuse, and other sanctuary cities, will continue to offer safe harbor to immigrants by refusing to help the federal government enforce immigration laws.

But, for how long, no one knows.

The Trump people aren’t about to give up. But they have made no progress in their efforts.

On April 25, the Trump anti-immigration initiative was dealt another blow. A US judge in San Francisco issued an order which blocked the president’s executive action to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities.

Trump’s response was: see you in Supreme Court.

He is ready to take it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. And, all indications are that he’ll do what he says.

Like most major American cities, Syracuse has a connection with immigration that is steeped in its history.

I have written about the different aspects of the immigrant experience before, and the way it relates to the socio-economic life of the city, in terms of the diversity of ethnicities which make-up its population.

It is a city with areas that remind us of their immigrant beginnings.

Evidence of a strong Italian influence is easily discernible as you drive up North Salina, from downtown, and on most of the North side. The majority of the names on the older buildings on the north side are Italian.

On the west side, the Irish influence is also unmistakable. Many of the businesses have Irish names. And, the taxi and transportation business is dominated by Somalis, and other African nationals.

These attributes suggest that the immigrant sensibility has always been present in this city, and that it continues to flourish, reinforced by the city’s sanctuary status.

As for me, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive over the years, within the African-American community, as well as the community as a whole. I can find nothing more powerful, and relevant to my immigrant experience, than the fact that I live in a city that makes a real effort at welcoming immigrants. It is one in which the pervasive attitude towards immigrants remains humane.

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