San Francisco’s sanctuary policy is a point of pride for local civic leaders. Passed in 1989, the ordinance prohibits cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. In 2008, then Mayor Gavin Newsom spent $83,000 promoting the city’s status as a sanctuary for illegal aliens. This support continued even when the city’s sanctuary policy was implicated in crimes committed by people who sheltered under it.
These sanctuary city policies are spreading around the U.S. at an alarming clip. In part, this is due to the Obama administration’s decision to not sue these sanctuary cities for violating federal law, which prohibits states and cities from preventing their law enforcement officers from communicating with the DHS when they discover someone is in the U.S. illegally.
In contrast, cities such as Farmers Branch, Texas, and Hazleton, Pennsylvania, passed ordinances meant to make it more difficult for illegal aliens to take up residence in those communities. Among the provisions of these laws were several targeting landlords who rented to illegal immigrants. The ordinances would have regulated landlords and fined them if their tenants did not have a rental license. However, the Supreme Court refused to review lower court decisions saying these town’s ordinances were an unlawful regulation of immigration.
Despite being supportive of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, sanctuary city residents are up in arms about a different type of illegal renter these days. In San Francisco, there is a proposed ballot measure to regulate services such as Airbnb. In fact, the proposed ordinance would set up a fund to pay people who inform the city that their neighbors are illegal landlords.
“The short-term rental market is exploding and cries out for some sort of regulation. People are stunned to find out that a house on their block is now a hotel,” said Calvin Welch, one of the initiative sponsors.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the proposal is tougher than an alternative measure to regulate these internet rental services. “In addition, the proposal calls for a private right of action for any citizen to file a complaint about an Airbnb rental, go to court, and receive 30 percent of any fines and back taxes that result, along with all their attorney fees. That idea is still in flux.”
San Francisco isn’t the only sanctuary jurisdiction trying to crack down on Airbnb and related services. Today, for example, “[New York] State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is demanding the rental website Airbnb turn over documents that may show its users are breaking state law. Schneiderman’s office says many Airbnb users are treating their apartments like illegal hotels, and that’s why they’re in court, to demand the rental website turn over internal documents that could prove their point,” NY1.com reported.
Schneiderman, along with other Democrats, filed an amicus brief opposing Arizona’s SB 1070 law.
It’s odd that these cities and states, which tout their openness to illegal immigration (and the associated identity fraud, job displacement, and social welfare costs) are willing to draw the line (and make illegal) short term rentals by homeowners and apartment dwellers trying to make more money. What makes one type of illegal money-making scheme preferable to the other?
Does the discrepancy between these two policies (sanctuary vs. rental ordinances) illustrate a hypocritical stance? In part, yes, because the costs of illegal immigration aren’t usually borne by the people most likely to support a sanctuary city policy – people who are isolated from tremendously overcrowded housing in Los Angeles, for example, by restrictive zoning. But with the Airbnb service, the phrase “welcome the stranger,” usually used as a platitude by amnesty supporters, takes on an uncomfortably literal meaning for people greeting their neighbor’s different guests as they leave the condominium or navigate around the latest car with out of state plates parked on their street.