Ron Jacobs: Sanctuary status a human rights issue, not financial

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ron Jacobs, of Winooski, who is a library worker and the author of several books, most recently “Daydream Sunset: 60s Counterculture in the ’70s” and “Can We Escape the Eternal Flame?”

A few short days after Donald Trump moved into the White House, he issued an executive fiat imposing a “moratorium” on granting visas to human beings from certain nations — all of them predominantly Muslim. In addition, he began the process to build his wall on the Mexican border, halted the resettlement of refugees from the civil war in Syria, and commanded federal agencies to look into defunding those U.S. cities and towns that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented residents. Among those cities threatened by this administrative act of hatred and prejudice is Burlington, Vermont. Another Vermont city affected by the order was Rutland, which was forced to halt (at least temporarily) its plans to resettle Syrian refugees in that town.

Unlike other sanctuary cities like Boston and San Francisco, which immediately issued strong statements defending their status as sanctuaries and vowed to defy Trump’s dictatorial fiat, the response from officials in Burlington was considerably less strident. Although the city did promise to maintain its welcome mat to undocumented individuals and families living in the United States, the chair of the semi-official “welcoming committee,” Jane Knodell, was quoted in the local daily newspaper as saying, “We’ll have to be weighing the costs and the benefits.” Although this quote is somewhat ambiguous, I find the fact that the lives of other human beings are reduced to “costs and benefits” appalling, to say the least. Indeed, I am reminded of those in the war business who callously consider those civilians certain to be killed as nothing but “collateral damage.”

The fact that the supposedly progressive government of Burlington did not take a stand like that of Boston’s Mayor Walsh … is not just an embarrassment, it is a despicable denial of the principles most Burlingtonians pride themselves on and, more importantly, a retreat from the principle that all humans are welcome in that city.

 

This type of response ignores the essential reality of Trump’s order: It is a vicious attempt to deny that human beings of all skin tones, nationalities, religions and cultures, genders and ages have the right to be secure in their person. This is not a civil right; it is a human right. The fact that the supposedly progressive government of Burlington did not take a stand like that of Boston’s Mayor Walsh, who said in a news conference, “We will fight for our residents, whether immigrant or not, and provide the best quality of life for all Bostonians. I will use all of my power within lawful means to protect all Boston residents — even if that means using City Hall itself as a last resort” is not just an embarrassment, it is a despicable denial of the principles most Burlingtonians pride themselves on and, more importantly, a retreat from the principle that all humans are welcome in that city. Even more ominous, it portends a continual compromise with the protofascism that Trumpism represents. Any compromise with such forces should not be acceptable. Instead of “weighing costs and benefits,” Burlington should be joining those cities vigorously and vocally opposing any and all attempts by the Trump government that deny others their human rights. If we don’t stand up for the rights of immigrants, who will be the next target of the forces now in control in Washington, D.C.?

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