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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sánchez

‘Non-sanctuary’ resolutions are a crisis of their own making

“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”


As much as I agree with the sentiment, I can’t take credit for the quote above. That goes to none other than America’s first president, George Washington. And while his vision is admirable, I’m regularly reminded of how far our nation still remains from achieving it.


Roughly 170 years later, another iconic U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, accurately described America as “a nation of immigrants.” Today, the U.S. is home to more immigrants than any other country in our perpetually migrating world — more than 45 million people, according to the most recent Census estimates. That rounds out to about 14% of the U.S. population, just about the same as it was a century ago.


Yet today, in many parts of western Colorado, it’s considered a crisis. Immigrants, we’re told, are something to be afraid of, “safe and agreeable asylum” be damned.


The town of Silt, less than 30 miles west of the Eagle County line and more than 700 miles north of the Mexican border, is the latest to advance the fearmongering. Earlier this month, the Town Board of Trustees unanimously voted to follow the lead of the Garfield County Board of Commissioners and like-minded commissioners from Mesa, Moffatt, Montrose, and Montezuma counties, among others, by passing a resolution declaring themselves a “non-sanctuary community.”


In other words, immigrants are unwelcome there. That, according to several of the copy-cat resolutions making the rounds in western Colorado, is because immigrants  “pose a significant public health and safety risk” and are responsible for an “increase in crime” and “communicable disease.”


We truly have reached the crisis stage, albeit a crisis of small-minded leadership and intolerance. And unless this leadership-enabled xenophobia is put to a halt now, it’s sure to spread. We’ve already witnessed a handful of Silt residents joining neighbors in Rifle to request a similar “non-sanctuary” resolution from the town of RIfle — which the town council is currently considering.


It’s worth noting here that the only surge of immigrants the town of Silt (pop. 3,500) has been forced to endure since the former Ute Indian lands were opened up to homesteading in 1881 and subsequently incorporated in 1915 are the very residents living there today. Outside of the migrant workers recruited for harvest season, the nation’s recent influx of immigrants has managed to steer clear of Silt despite the absence of any resolution before now, landing instead in urban areas more capable of accommodating them.


To be clear, there is and always has been new immigration to this region, even in Silt. And although these divisive and unwarranted resolutions are harmful on many levels, it’s the long-term Silt and Garfield County immigrants — almost entirely Latino — who are hurt the most. Many are both immigrants and U.S. citizens, now publicly accused of bringing diseases and increasing crime in the community, being told that they never really belonged.


Others can be counted among the nation’s 11 million undocumented long-term immigrants who lack a pathway to citizenship despite their contributions to our economy and society. Their dilemma is only compounded by the flawed logic of Silt Trustee Samuel Flores proclaiming that people must “earn” their way and “join the community legally” while simultaneously rejecting them as part of that community. I propose rejecting such demagoguery instead.


These “non-sanctuary” resolutions are the definition of performative politics at its worst. While offering no tangible solutions or improvements to anyone’s lives, they direct blame toward the immigrant and Latino communities, even in the absence of guilt. Some, like Garfield County, go a step farther by encouraging the local Sheriff’s Department to proactively work with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), even when immigrants have not been charged with a crime.


Such policies do nothing but undermine relations between local law enforcement and immigrant communities by discouraging immigrants from reporting crimes due to fear of retribution or potential deportation. On a broader scale, they open the door to racial profiling and signal that police and public officials are not here to serve the Latino community in any capacity.


Certainly there are more effective ways to prioritize and allocate limited resources in small, rural communities like ours, starting with dismissing resolutions that do nothing to change the reality they are trying to prevent. Rather than finding ways to further divide our communities, municipalities should be asking organizations like ours how to help immigrant families overcome barriers to integration while proactively seeking out resources to serve the needs of all members of the community.


Since the founding of our nation, immigration has long been a difficult issue, and we can all agree on the current need for state and federal officials to act on meaningful reform. But rather than making a difficult situation worse through dog-whistle resolutions and misinformation that promotes xenophobic fears and division, we need leaders at every level who are willing to have open conversations, ask informed questions, and pursue effective policy solutions.


The Town of Rifle currently has the opportunity to take a stand by rejecting the suggestion of passing a “non-sanctuary” resolution, and we encourage them to do so – just as we call on other municipalities to repeal such measures. Equitable communities require unity. Division has never been the answer.


Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, non-profit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. His column appears monthly at VailDaily.

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