There are people among us who are hunted, marginalized, and whose very existence in this country is considered to be a danger to others. We are of course talking about mutants, but we could as just easily mean illegal immigrants. After all, Donald Trump and others like him paint this small population as if they were sinister and super-powered criminals who are responsible for the woes of our society, as if they were actually capable of firing laser beams from their eyes or manipulating metal with thought. Yet even the mutants of Marvel Comics had a place where they could call their own, a safe haven away from the politicians and the paramilitary organizations hunting for their heads. For people like Storm, Wolverine, and even Jubilee, there was Xavier’s Mansion, and for undocumented immigrants there are sanctuary cities. Yet, what are these cities and what do they actually do to protect those who live there?
The House of M…igrants
A recent survey touted by Trump stated that 80% of Americans were against sanctuary cities. Of course that statistic turned out to be misleading to the point of inaccuracy. The truth is that a lot of Americans do not even really know what sanctuary cities are. To most it is just another vague and misleading buzzword like “engine malfunction” or “Sir Patrick Stewart.” So let’s start by demystifying the term a bit.
Vox, has a fairly satisfactory explanation of what a sanctuary city is. There are multiple places in the United States that could be considered a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, but most people think of places like San Fransisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, etc, but this is not just about large cities. ICE has identified 165 counties and cities across the country that have policies against cooperation in matters of illegal immigrants. Sanctuary cities do not go around actively harboring illegal immigrants, so much as they just turn a blind to their presence within the city’s limits. Technically any city or town that has a law or an unofficial policy that limits municipal funds or personnel from assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers could be considered a sanctuary city. ICE cannot force local law enforcement officers to cooperate in detaining and handing over illegal immigrants, all they can do is make a request, and the distinction of sanctuary versus non-sanctuary usually comes down to how municipalities treat that request.
For local police departments and city officials this often leads to a dilemma. If a city police department ignores an ICE request to detain or hand over an undocumented immigrant, than the federal or even state government could retaliate by withholding funds, as Trump has attempted to do. This could be a real issue, as the Justice Department gives millions of dollars in assistance grants to local police, especially in cities such as San Fransisco, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, and others. However, choosing to turn over undocumented immigrants, could mean holding them without bail, often for multiple days, and usually on minor or no official charges. Additionally, cooperating with ICE requests breaks down trust between local law enforcement and the communities they serve. If illegal immigrants believe that they are going to be deported every time they talk with the police as a witness or when they report a crime, than they will stop doing those things. That ultimately makes the job of policing harder, especially considering undocumented immigrants are already less likely to report crimes to the police. That is why their population is at the highest risk of being victims of crimes -such as domestic violence, sexual assault, or rape- and not its perpetrators.
Come to think of it… that may be why Magneto can attack the X-Men so often and yet Xavier never calls the police. Mutants who are constantly vilified in the media and by the government have as much to fear from the authorities as they do from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. In the Marvel universe politicians and hate groups cast them as literal dangers to society. Thus, if the police show up to a scene where a mutant is the victim, there seems to be no guarantee how they will be treated regardless of their fault in the crime. They could be arrested simply because they have giant metal claws coming out of their hands. Illegal immigrants may not have special or dangerous powers, but their fear is equally real, especially with the pervasive rhetoric of Donald Trump labeling them all as criminals and rapists.
Four Hombres of Apocalypse
A lot of the rhetoric surrounding sanctuary cities and the illegal immigrants who populate them has to do with the crime rates of those cities. Yet, the facts don’t bare out any sort of evidence that sanctuary cities are more lawless or more dangerous because of their undocumented population. In fact, the truth may be the opposite. Using an Immigration and Customs Enforcement data-set obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, the Center for American Progress analyzed various indicators that compared the success of sanctuary cities and non-sanctuary cities and came up with some interesting conclusions.
According to their statistical analysis there are, on average, 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties. In a small way, this makes sense as –we have already discussed– undocumented and documented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens. A look at census data between 1980 and 2010 shows that for men between the ages of 18 to 49, immigrants were 50% to 80% less likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States. Justice Department figures show that -across all ages and sexes- immigrants only make up 5% of the American prison population, yet make up 7% of the general American population. Trump and others sometimes point to the fact that 22% of federal inmates are immigrants, but that fact is misleading, as about one-third of those federal inmates are serving time for immigration offenses which are not covered by any specific state laws -thus they are not eligible for state prisons.
To return to the X-Men analogy, a person who is already part of a persecuted minority tends to do their best to stay out of trouble, rather than involve themselves in it. After all, if you are a mutant walking around you are going to be more wary of who you interact with or what situations you involve yourself in. Of course, there are always opposite and anecdotal examples that hardliners will trout to make their point, but when you examine the national trends and statistics you see that they tend to be the minority. Most illegal immigrants, like most mutants are just trying to live their lives, regardless of the target on their back. Maybe that is why sanctuary cities are just as safe -if not safer- as non-sanctuary cities or counties.
The Pays of Future Cash
Perhaps even more surprising, sanctuary cities perform better in certain metrics than their non-sanctuary counterparts. The annual median household income in sanctuary cities, on average, is $4,353 higher compared to non-sanctuary counties. On average, the poverty rate is 2.3% lower and unemployment is 11.1% lower in sanctuary cities compared to non-sanctuary counties. Now at least some of these discrepancies can be attributed to the fact that sanctuary cities tend be larger metropolitan areas with more opportunity than smaller -and more rural- non-sanctuary areas. However, it is also proven that immigrants -even illegal immigrants- have positive economic impacts on the areas in which they inhabit.
An increase in economical indicators in sanctuary areas has at least some correlation with the availability of cheap labor, but also with the availability of ambition. Immigrants -especially illegal immigrants- who risk everything to come to America do so to make a life for themselves. In fact, according to a study conducted at Harvard, undocumented immigrant men are more likely to be employed than documented immigrant men, who themselves are more likely to be employed than men who are US citizens. Undocumented immigrants now account for about 5% of US labor. And with more people employed -and not on welfare, because having no documents literally means that you cannot apply for welfare- than that is more money that gets pumped back into the local economies of those sanctuary cities. That means more people purchasing, and paying taxes -because yes illegal immigrants do pay billions in taxes.
In Marvel Comics there is only one small gene that separates humans and mutants. However, in our world there is no difference between “average” Americans and undocumented immigrants. We are all looking for the same opportunities, the same comforts, emotions, and the basic protections that all humans are owed.Professor X created his school and his opened his home as a safe space for a persecuted population. He knew that given the chance the mutants under his care would flourish and find their purpose in life. Together he believed that they could build a safe community where everyone was given a fair chance, and that equality among regular humans and mutants would ultimately raise up both groups up together.
Sanctuary cities, like Professor X’s mansion, are nothing more than places where those who are being hunted can feel safe. They are places where illegal immigrants can expect at least some basic considerations, where they do not have to always fear that ever siren or every person on the street could mean their end. We do not have a small marginalized population that can fly or walk through walls, but we do have a population of people who are invisible, and without places like sanctuary cities, they would suffer even more than they already are.
Now cue the best damn theme song in cartoon history: