For our last big episode of the season, Doomed to Repeat is touching on one of the most polarizing issues in American politics: immigration and so-called “sanctuary cities.” In the age of the Dreamsicle President, matters of law and migration have taken a vastly greater political, economic, cultural, and emotional valence that at any time in recent memory. In dissing Trump, we do not mean to belittle the issue at all. People are afraid. One of our two co-hosts, in fact, has family who are now unable to flee violence and disorder in Libya and come to join their relatives in the United States because of the administration’s appalling “Muslim ban.”
But it’s hard to recall a time when people were more galvanized about the issue of immigration–not when Congress passed sweeping, historic immigration reform in 1965, that has reshaped American society in the years since; not when conservative icon Ronald Reagan passed “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants in the 1980s; and not even when an attempt at reform prompted intense protests (both for and against) across the country in 2006. Like Germany, France, and other nations where fear and suspicion of immigrants has boiled over into the mainstream of politics, the United States finds itself in a profoundly turbulent moment.
Ire against immigrants has centered, for a variety of reasons, on the symbolic target of “sanctuary”–cities, counties, and other jurisdictions that have opted not to have law enforcement turn over undocumented individuals to federal authorities. It is the perfect elixir for our time: a symbolic crusade against liberal cities by the suburban and heartland voters who put Trump in the White House.
But we want to get past the noisy headlines. In this episode, we talk to legal historian H. Robert Baker about the long history of local communities shielding immigrants (and escaped slaves) from persecution. We also talk to Georges Hoffmann, a Marietta, GA-based attorney with a long history of teaching and practicing immigration law, for a Q&A about the ins and outs of what “sanctuary” really means. We hope this episode will stand alongside our past discussions of the anti-vaccination movement, beer, Russia, and other subjects as a useful, historically-grounded look at the big issues of the current moment.
Here is Rob Baker’s earlier piece on sanctuary cities for ToM, as well as an excellent 99% Invisible episode on the deeper backstory of the 1980s sanctuary movement.