I didn't shoot this video, as I was stuck in my office as all this was going down not quite a mile uptown yesterday evening. Instead, "Mert Melfa" uploaded to YouTube what looks like a Facebook Live video taking during a demonstration outside of the Hedley Building in Troy NY, currently its City Hall. A coalition of local groups came to lobby city politicians to declare Troy a "sanctuary city" in defiance of Trump administration threats to withhold federal funds from municipalities that refuse to identify undocumented immigrants when asked by federal investigators. A counter-demonstration formed, including the protagonist of the video. Most of the following consists of commentary and discussion, but during the last couple of minutes things break down as people jostle for position to hear a pro-sanctuary organizer talk to the media.
Communities like Troy that are already cash-strapped probably should put pragmatism before principle whenever someone proposes putting federal aid in jeopardy. They find themselves under pressure from people who see undocumented immigrants as the moral equivalent of fugitive slaves in the antebellum days. Sanctuary city laws are analogous in intent to 19th century "personal liberty" laws that put northern communities on record as refusing to assist federal marshals in capturing escaped slaves. Troy had no such law back in the day but it did have resistance to the federal fugitive-slave law, most dramatically when activists broke Charles Nalle out of jails in both Troy and Watervliet in 1860. Opponents of the fugitive law depended on a constitutional theory that slavery was an exception to the comity principle that required each state to respect the laws of other states. Relying on English common law precedent, which many still considered relevant to the U.S., they argued that slavery could have no legal standing, and slaveholders no right to their slaves, should a fugitive escape into a state where slavery had been made illegal. In our time, sanctuary cities (or counties) don't pit one state's rules on immigration against another's, but put sanctuaries in direct opposition, however passively, to the federal government which alone sets the rules for immigration. They are a form of nullification that has nothing like the moral justification that could be invoked when communities refused to uphold slaveholders' rights. You simply can't assert that everyone on Earth has an inherent right to settle in the United States (or anywhere they please) in the same way that you could argue that no man should be a slave. There is no equivalent oppression or implicit crime against humanity, especially when you consider that the theoretical immigrant is not barred absolutely from entering the country, but is only obliged to "wait in line" and follow lawful procedures. Those strictures may be unfair by some standards, but not in the existential way in which slavery is deemed unfair or unjust, and not in any way that justified resistance to a federal government apparently determined to enforce its will. It would be one thing for those who believe zealously that "no one is illegal" to take their own risks, but pressuring municipalities to declare themselves sanctuaries exposes others, who may benefit from or depend on federal aid, to risk with neither their consent nor any necessary benefit from sheltering the undocumented. There was a time when the sanctuary city movement was a relatively risk-free form of moral posturing, but it looks like that time is over, and it was never clear in the first place how moral the posturing was.