Rand Paul's Anti-Sanctuary City Bill Values Arbitrary Government Rules Over Liberty

Wanting tougher immigration law to prevent possible crimes is like wanting tougher gun laws to prevent possible crimes.


After Kate Steinle was murdered by illegal immigrant Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez this month in San Francisco, illegal immigration and specifically the practices of "sanctuary cities" (including San Francisco) came under intense fire.

Many politicians and pundits blamed the tragedy on that practice of many cities to not actively investigate and enforce federal immigration law on everyone, or to detain people on behalf of or turn over people to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Had Lopez-Sanchez been turned over for (yet another) deportation to the feds after a recent appearance in a San Francisco court over an ancient drug charge, Steinle would still be alive.

The overarching reason for such policies is that policing immigrant heavy communities is far more difficult if many of your citizens are afraid to speak to or deal with police for fear of deportation. Given the incredibly backlogged system for hearing asylum cases or considering the legitimate reasons a non-citizen might be able to stay here, deporting people nabbed for often petty crimes (an Obama administration specialty!) can seem inhumane, to the humane.

Among those jumping on the anti-sanctuary-city bandwagon was presidential candidate and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Paul proudly introduced the PACT Act ("Protecting American Citizens Together," ugh), because, as he states in his office's emailed press release, "Our nation now has whole cities and states who stand up and willingly defy federal immigration laws in order to protect illegal immigrants who have broken our nation's laws. This must end and it must end now. My bill makes it clear, the American people will not stand for cities harboring violent criminals."

The bill would cut off a range of federal law enforcement grants to localities from any city daring to go its own way on enforcing federal immigration law. This, from a politician who generally sells himself as a strong federalist welcoming local experimentation, especially when, as with marijuana law, respect for local decisions might halt government interference with people's lives for no good reason. Medical marijuana states are themselves "defying" federal laws, yet that doesn't bother Paul on principle.

Paul seems to think immigration is different. The above comment from Paul's mouth, and other language in the press release, strongly implies—hell, outright states—that being in this country without jumping through the government's complicated hoops (that are more or less impossible to jump through anyway) makes one a "violent criminal."

But as Nick Gillespie pointed out last week, despite immigration restrictionist fantasies that illegal immigrants = crime wave, a sanctuary city such as San Francisco, despite being the site for Steinle's horrible murder, has a lower murder rate than many comparable non-sanctuary cities. Much-touted increased deportations of "criminal immigrants" are much more often about violators of traffic laws, not laws against person or property. Higher rates of immigration do not equal higher rates of actual crime.

It's curious for Rand Paul, or any Republican, to get outraged in this case that laws exist that, if more toughly enforced, could potentially have saved a life—even though in the staggeringly vast majority of cases enforcing deportation laws would save no lives but but merely bedevil or harm someone trying to peacefully live and sell his labor or services to others.

Curious, because when similar logic is used about gun laws—the constant cry to toughen existing laws about who can obtain guns and how whenever a rare outlier uses a gun to kill—Paul and other Second Amendment defenders recognize that a far-off chance of preventing some unpredictable crime is not a sufficient excuse to waste government resources and restrict peaceful people's lives. Anyone who respects liberty more than they respect "the law" should recognize that the logic is as foolish in the case of immigration law as it is in the case of gun law. 

So far actual sanctuary cities don't seem inclined to use Steinle's murder as an excuse to change their policies, minus the sort of federal threat Paul is advocating. As USA Today reports, the practice of holding people in jail on ICE's behalf might not be entirely legal anyway:

Johnson County (Kansas) Sheriff Frank Denning points to a U.S. District Court decision out of Oregon last year that ruled in favor of a woman who was incarcerated for 15 days solely on a request from ICE. There was no judicial order or warrant. That, according to U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart, violated the woman's Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.

Denning said that ruling cemented in his mind that holding onto suspects solely on an ICE order was a violation of federal law.

Based partly on that ruling, ICE is currently transitioning to a system where they simply ask to be notified when certain immigrants are set to be released from local jails.

Thus, it was (another) disappointment to those of us who crave a Rand Paul who argues and legislates from his libertarian side that he joined the anti-immigrant bandwagon, insisting that a limited and indebted government needs to make kicking people out for not following immigration rules a top priority, federalism be damned.

That Paul's tool to punish sanctuary cities is cutting off certain federal funds is a libertarian plus, yes. But unless and until he advocates ending all the federal law enforcement grants his PACT Act would take away from sanctuary cities, PACT is objectively anti-free-movement-of-people, not pro-fiscal-responsibility.

Even Ron Paul, often held up as a gold standard of small government purism against which the son is at best pyrite, griped to me back in 2007 that he doesn't consider pure open borders (especially in a welfare-state world) a necessary libertarian position; that makes one "anarchists, and I'm not. I believe in national borders and national security."

Even granting that, it's troubling that a politician like Paul whose selling point is supposed to be recognizing the out of control expense and reach of government advocates and prioritizes tossing out people merely for a failure to obey arbitrary rules that have nothing necessarily to do with protecting anyone's live or property, and in fact prevents Americans from hiring, receiving services from, or otherwise interacting with people who they might chose to. It's not an encouraging sign of either his dedication to liberty writ large or his willingness to be a maverick in a GOP pack behaving as if illegal immigration (trending down for years) is one of the most vital public policy issues facing this troubled nation.

Ron Paul in 1983 entered an interesting comment about immigration into the Congressional Record from libertarian economics teacher Hans Sennholz. It read:

In the cause of individual freedom, we must defend the rights of all people, including illegal aliens. But if the political rights of American citizenship entail the denial of the human right to work diligently for one's economic existence, and if we are forced to choose between the two, we must opt for the latter. The right to sustain one's life through personal effort and industry is a basic human right that precedes and exceeds all political rights. 

Merely being dragged into the police's maw for any of the myriad, often petty and pointless, reasons that one might end up in it is no adequate reason to deport them, to deny that right Sennholz talks about to someone who crossed a border in a manner the federal government prohibits. (Actual violent crime is a different story, but despite using that phrase Paul's bill makes no distinctions about the reasons an illegal immigrant ends up in the justice system.) That is the proper attitude toward immigration for someone, even someone running for president, who values liberty and free markets.