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Bill Straub: Sanctuary Cities — now, is this really the No. 1 problem facing a state like Kentucky?


It’s no secret that Kentucky, sadly, has been a bottom feeder among the states for so long that it swims almost undistinguished from the carp and the flounder.

Consider just a few items. The Commonwealth ranks 46th in per capita income, 46th in residents with a high school diploma or higher (48th with a bachelor’s degree for those keeping score at home), 43rd in child poverty, 48th in a measure of “green’’ states, 44th in the percentage of residents behind bars and it and leads the nation in cancer death rate.

That record doesn’t provide much in the way of bragging rights – although the Wildcats, of course, have a few national titles under their belts to make up for it. Go Blue. A lot of good people over the years have endeavored to pull the Bluegrass out of the morass but their efforts have resulted in mixed outcomes at best.

Which brings us to the 2020 Kentucky General Assembly, God love it.

Twain once characterized the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., as “that grand old benevolent National Asylum for the helpless.” He might just as well be talking about Frankfort, a pretty nice town otherwise, when the Kentucky legislature is in session.

With all those cited problems facing the Commonwealth – and there are plenty more but it’s a 15-yard penalty for piling on – what do you suppose the Senate’s Republican leadership considers the biggest issue confronting the state?

Sanctuary cities.

That’s right. Sanctuary cities and no, this is not a joke. The same, however, can’t be said for the Kentucky General Assembly.

The upper chamber’s leadership has selected a bill sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, as its top priority as the session gets underway. The measure, designated Senate Bill 1, would prohibit municipalities in the state from declaring themselves to be sanctuary cities – towns that refuse to assist federal immigration agencies in finding and detaining undocumented immigrants. It would further prevent public colleges and universities from adopting such sanctuary policies.

Well thank goodness the legislature has its priorities straight. Now thousands of kids in Kentucky who go to bed hungry every night – did I mention that 14.7 percent of Commonwealth’s households face low or very low food security, placing it 45th? – can once again sleep soundly knowing the scourge of sanctuary cities is being addressed post haste.

Now, perhaps it’s rude, but it might be pertinent to mention that there are no sanctuary cities in Kentucky and seeking the designation is simply unnecessary – the Commonwealth isn’t exactly a magnet for undocumented immigrants, amounting to an estimated 0.08 percent of the population.

If the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service is, indeed, intent on ridding the nation of desperate workers without the appropriate papers, it’s fair to say it will follow the advice of infamous bank robber Willie Sutton who said he hit financial institutions because “that’s where the money is.” ICE will go where the undocumented folks reside, not Kentucky.

Regardless, it’s not like those who have settled in the commonwealth are for the most part doing anyone or anything great harm, despite the boogie man picture proponents of the measure like to paint. Most are involved in fieldwork or the service industry where the can go about their business and send the checks back home to Latin America in anonymity.

Yet Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, insists that stemming the flow of the brown horde crossing the commonwealth’s borders is “an important issue.”

“There are individuals coming into our country that are using our resources, our educational systems and our health care systems that are not contributing in any way,” Stivers told the Courier Journal of Louisville.  “So how do we deprive our citizens and individuals who have immigrated here legally … for people who have not followed the law and on many occasions are illegal to the extent that they are breaking the law and helping in the trafficking of drugs?”

The claims of relentless lawbreaking and drug dealing by the undocumented is an old and worthless canard unworthy of serious consideration. Studies have time and again shown the contention to be so much hooey. Regardless, the answer is a simple one – if they’re dealing smack, arrest them just like anyone else. Nobody is suggesting that authorities do otherwise.

And it’s just downright silly to say these folks aren’t contributing in any way. Many are filling jobs Americans want nothing to do with, like bending over in lettuce fields for 15 hours a day with limited water and restroom resources.

And whatever happened to local control, an issue legislative Republicans are always harping on?

They complain about unfunded mandates from the federal government – well taken much of the time – but legislators are frequently not shy about instructing city leaders on how to conduct their business. So what if a city, say Louisville, adopts an ordinance designating it as a sanctuary city? How is that affecting other cities like Lexington or Paducah or Manchester?

Yeah, GOP Lawmakers in Frankfort talk a good game about local control — they’re for it unless they’re against it.

Meanwhile, the legislature doesn’t appear too keen on putting the stops on another potential sanctuary movement – this one regarding the Second Amendment, where cities specify they won’t help authorities in enforcing any new federal gun control laws. No city or county has yet to seek the designation in Kentucky although it was under consideration in Anderson County at one point. Now five will get you 10 that members of the nation’s well regulated Militia will be responsible for more ignoble deaths over a period of time than some poor farmworker cutting tobacco. But that doesn’t seem to bother the good folks in the legislature even a little bit.

And don’t think for a moment that the whole issue doesn’t have something to do with the fact that most of these folks, 0.08 percent of the population, are brown in a state that is almost 90 percent white. And they talk funny. That’s sufficient, in 21st Century Kentucky, to support the desire to send them back from whence they came, despite deprivations and hardships.

During this time of year, with the legislature in session, lawmakers always speak on the floor and elsewhere about working for the “little guy.” It’s always been baloney. The General Assembly almost always punches down, not up. Undocumented workers have just provided them with another target.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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One Comment

  1. Marv Dunn says:

    I’ve not heard anything about ICE having a problem with local law enforcement. In fact, Kentucky is about the last state (44-50?) that I would look for a sanctuary city. Our Senate leader is from Clay County which I read is about 97% white. I’m pretty sure that there are a lot more white people there on “disability” than all the brown and black people combined. The Hispanic folks are workers. Is he afraid they may take jobs away from the slackers? The Governor better keep his veto pen handy. There’s going to be a lot of garbage coming out of this Legislature.

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