Christ Child was a refugee to whom we could not give sanctuary

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

In this, the final week of Advent preparing for the Nativity (and ultimately the Judgment), the public discourse turns to what constitutes a sanctuary. Some places, like Los Angeles and Chicago, have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” where undocumented immigrants somehow will be protected from the federales. Not sure how that works. Rep. Steve King wants to cut off federal funds to those places. Not sure how that works, either.

But just what is a sanctuary city?

Vice News poked around Storm Lake for a story it published last week asking if The City Beautiful were a sanctuary city.

Public Safety Director Mark Prosser said he is not certain what a sanctuary city is. He has made clear that his department, which has been chronically short-staffed, is in no position to round up mothers and children without papers. His troops’ priorities are arresting drunk drivers, jailing domestic abusers and solving burglaries. Prosser has made it clear that his department will not act as an immigration detention force.

That does not make Storm Lake a sanctuary city.

In fact, there is no legal definition.

Some sources consider Ida County a “sanctuary” because the sheriff doesn’t return phone calls from Immigration Customs Enforcement. He doesn’t respond to anybody outside of Ida County. Trump himself could call and if Sheriff Wade is out to coffee The Donald can just wait.

Prosser quit bothering with non-criminal immigrants when authorities would detain them but ICE never would pick them up. The detainees would be sprung from jail. It was an administrative headache and waste of time. Now, Sheriff Kory Elston does honor ICE detainer requests but he seldom gets them anymore. If such requests starting flooding in, Elston might have to reconsider based on manpower and jail space.

“We’re not immigration officials or officers. That’s not our job—it’s to enforce our local and state laws,” Elston told Vice, “and that’s the way it should be.”

Vice suggested that Storm Lake is consciously avoiding the use of the word “sanctuary” to avoid any punitive actions. I honestly don’t think that many people around here have thought much about sanctuaries other than for ducks and geese that they might shoot outside the sanctuary.

So let’s just say Little Storm Lake is the sanctuary.

“We’re getting along just fine, we don’t need to take on that,” Jim Patrick, Storm Lake’s city manager, said of adopting the term in the Vice story. “The police chief works very hard in trying to make people feel safe. We want things that happen to be reported and people not to feel threatened by reporting something... but if someone commits a serious crime, a felony, we’re not going to offer sanctuary to someone like that.”

School Supt. Carl Turner simply says that he will take care of his students.

Sanctuary is “a buzz word that creates more heat than light,” said Father Tim Friedrichsen of St. Mary’s Catholic Parish. (He adds that St. Mary’s offers Mass in about every language but Latin.) Rev. Chuck Valenti-Hein of Lakeside Presbyterian Church said Storm Lake “isn’t interested in making a political statement.”

“I’d say people of Storm Lake are trying to protect people here and the economy,” Valenti-Hein told Vice.

Under the King or Trump definition, Storm Lake would be a sanctuary city. We do not hunt down the undocumented and call them in to ICE. Mainly because it’s not worth the bother under Democratic or Republican administrations. Nobody really wants to come and get them. They’re all talk.

Without federal funding, Storm Lake would not be able to provide the street, sewer and water infrastructure to keep the meatpackers running. King may say he wants to defund Storm Lake, but does he really want to shut down Tyson Fresh Meats and put 2,200 people — almost all of them legal residents or citizens — out of work? The airport could not land planes from VT Industries of Holstein. They could not land in Ida County, either, unless Sheriff Wade gets off the golf course and on the phone with ICE.

Does anybody seriously think this will happen?

Or are people just yakking during the Christmas season to keep everyone on hate alert?

They could care less that Pope Francis commonly associates the holy family with immigrants and refugees. Or that Pope Pius five years before I was born made the same association, apparently to little effect on some:

“The émigré Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are, for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave their native land, their beloved parents and relatives, their close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.” (Pope Pius XII, Exsul Familia Nazarethana, 1952)

Jesus, Mary and Joseph found sanctuary. Evil kings have been chasing them around the globe ever since, if you believe a single word of the Christmas story — that Jesus is in every face. From Aleppo to Storm Lake. From Christ’s time to ours.