To the great consternation of liberal Democratic mayors in the northeast, the governors of Texas and Arizona continue to send busloads of illegal migrants to New York and Washington to lessen the burdens on their states and draw more attention to the Biden border crisis. This has put the municipal governments of these self-defined sanctuary cities in a bit of a tough position politically. They are supposed to represent bastions of hope for the migrants and freedom from the “oppression” of ICE and the Border Patrol. But now that the migrants are arriving in larger numbers and doing so in a very public way, it’s becoming clear that this is a problem that the mayors were not prepared to handle. As Charles Lipson explains in Newsweek today, these so-called sanctuary city claims were clearly more of a case of virtue signaling than anything else, but when the cost of invoking such policies began to rise, the backlash came quickly.
The surest sign that public policies are simply virtue signals is when the messages don’t cost anything. The easiest way to tell when that signal starts to fail is to watch politicians flounder as the costs start to rise and voters demand relief.
It was free—and meaningless—for progressive churches to post banners calling themselves “nuclear free zones” during the Reagan era. Their dwindling congregations loved it. It was free, after George Floyd’s murder, to post woke catechism signs on your front lawn, proclaiming “In this house, we believe: Black Lives Matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal” and so on. Maybe the neighbors gave you high-fives. And for years it has been free for deep-blue cities to proclaim themselves “sanctuaries” for illegal immigrants. That’s changing now that voters want some sanctuary for themselves.
Changes like this happen when voters realize the old virtue signals actually entail serious costs—and that they will have to pay them. That is exactly what’s happening in New York City and Washington D.C. now that Texas Governor Greg Abbott is sending those cities a few busloads of illegal immigrants from his state.
Greg Abbott may have come up with the idea originally, but Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has been playing catch-up. Just this week we learned that Ducey is allocating up to $15 million in funding to continue loading and sending buses to the northeast. Both Mayor Muriel Bowser in Washington and Mayor Eric Adams in the Big Apple have already begun howling about it. They have also both called for federal assistance to handle the migrants while their shelters are already overflowing.
As Lipson points out, the reality of enacting various socialist and liberal policies is quite different than simply issuing press releases proclaiming your support for illegal migrants. Talking about being a sanctuary city carries no cost beyond perhaps a small budget for advertising time. Having hundreds of people suddenly showing up in your city with no resources or support networks, with most unable to even speak English carries very real and potentially significant costs.
But how do Bowser and Adams navigate these political waters? When they declare that the Republican governors are doing “something bad,” they are implicitly stating that having the migrants arrive in these sanctuaries is also “a bad thing.” But if you’re a sanctuary, why would accepting these people be a problem? That’s the equivalent of opening up a restaurant and then acting surprised and annoyed when people start walking in and trying to order food.
These are the same liberals who spent four years screaming about Donald Trump’s “racist” border wall and working to make sure it could not be built. They are the same ones who have constantly demanded amnesty for all illegal aliens in the country. But now that they have to shoulder the burden of caring for them, the tune has been changing. And it’s not just the financial cost of feeding and sheltering the migrants that have them concerned. There is a political cost as well when their residents demand solutions to the rising rates of homelessness and street crime that accompany large influxes of people who wind up in the public square. There are already politicians who may be on the verge of losing their jobs this fall because they’ve been unable to address these issues.
That’s just a pity, as I’m sure you will all agree. But we should remind them that they specifically asked for this to happen. And now they’re getting their wish.