Will Sanctuary Cities Shake Up Congress in 2018?

President Donald Trump wants to crack down on illegal immigration, and the state of Texas is standing faithfully by his side. The Texas biennial legislature is currently in session, and the state Senate has just passed a bill defunding “sanctuary cities” and opening the way to prosecute municipal and county officials who refuse to adhere to federal immigration policies. The bill, championed by conservative Republican governor Greg Abbott, comes on the heels of some big-city sheriffs publicly refusing to turn over illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

Sanctuary cities are a controversy that spreads far beyond border states, with diverse opinions on the subject popping up even in northern states like Wisconsin and Illinois.  Many Democrat-led cities have, to varying degrees, sought to shield illegal immigrants from federal immigration authorities.  Controversially, attempts to shield such immigrants from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have sometimes led to violent offenders being released… only to commit heinous crimes against Americans.

Recently publicized incidences of violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants who were set free by “sanctuary” municipalities may have turned public opinion against the liberal practice:  The Hill reports that a majority of polled Americans oppose sanctuary cities. However, as the crackdown on illegal immigration increases, citizens may become split on how far municipalities should go to determine and report immigration status to feds:  Should cities and counties only do immigration checks on individuals in jail, or during traffic stops as well? What about at public schools or universities?

State and federal threats to deprive sanctuary cities and sanctuary campuses of funds will prove controversial, especially since there may be collateral damage. Should rank-and-file cops and deputies suffer for the actions of a politically-minded leader? When money from Washington and state capitals is halted, where will cities make budget cuts? This could be an Achilles heel for Democrats: Voters are less likely to remain supportive of sanctuary cities when services are cut, rates are hiked, and layoffs loom.

But depriving local governments of state and federal money could backfire on anti-immigration Republicans. With voters already riled up about the impending repeal of Obamacare, the threatening of cities and counties by congressional Republicans could result in left-leaning voters being inspired to vote in record numbers in 2018. Some traditionally conservative groups, such as police unions, could switch their political allegiances as Republicans get blamed for the austerity measures.

The Republican Party, usually viewed as supportive of law enforcement, could suffer a reversal and be painted as anti-cop for the forced budget cuts.

Democrats have plenty of risks, too, for standing strong against the threats of Donald Trump and governors like Greg Abbott. Local voters may support immigrants out of compassion… until they face the pinch of austerity. If Republicans in power make good on their threats to cut funding, will liberals who feel the pinch blame the GOP or turn their wrath on the Democratic mayors, sheriffs, and police chiefs who didn’t know when to quit?

Although many voters are principled, there’s no denying that most people are primarily guided by economic self-interest.

Given the nature of the conflict, I can see Democrats making gains at the state and federal level as Republican governors and conservatives in Congress take the blame for hurting sanctuary cities and campuses. However, Republicans may make gains at the local level as Democratic mayors feel the wrath of voters after budget cuts and municipal layoffs commence.

Local Democrats will likely try to resist compliance and appeal to principle, insisting that budget cuts are an acceptable price to pay for remaining true to their values. Republicans in capitals will try to withstand voters’ anger by insisting that the crackdowns on illegal immigration are necessary to reduce violence.  As re-elections are sought, you can bet that plenty of elected officials from both parties will begin to waffle, especially in swing states. 

The deciding factor in the 2018 midterm storm generated by a federal crackdown on sanctuary cities and campuses will be voter turnout. Who will be angrier, and thus more motivated to cast ballots:  Liberals upset by perceived bullying of cities and immigrants, or conservatives upset by perceived liberal ignorance of the violence and welfare fraud perpetrated by illegals? While it is difficult to predict a winner, it can be guaranteed that the election will be one of the angriest yet, fueled by controversial “fake news.”

Research on illegal immigration’s effects on the United States seems to contradict president Trump’s well-publicized disdain for Mexicans, revealing no link between immigrants and higher rates of criminality. However, the facts also reveal the tremendous level of violence in Mexico… which can and does cross the border at any time. Both liberals and conservatives can point to volumes of data, both anecdotal and aggregate, that paint illegal immigration as beneficial and detrimental to our nation.  With both sides unable to gain any ground with voters, you can bet that fake news about immigration will become commonplace.

It’s gonna be ugly, folks, and incumbents of both parties could be voted out of office in record numbers over it.

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