In biblical times, a sanctuary city was a place where someone who had committed unintentional manslaughter could find refuge from "the avenger of blood."
If the offender left the sanctuary city, he could be set upon by a relative of the dead person and killed. No sanctuary was available to anyone who committed murder with malice aforethought.
Modern sanctuary cities are less reflective of their ancient namesakes and more like the hideouts established by train robbers and cattle rustlers during the days of the Wild West, as the current sanctuary city movement shields men and women who have broken federal law to reach the United States.
Threats by the Trump administration to hold back federal money from cities that harbor illegal immigrants show some promise. In July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new immigration compliance requirements for federal grant programs, including mandates that state and local entities must allow federal immigration access to detention facilities and provide 48 hours' notice before authorities release an illegal immigrant wanted by federal authorities. If states comply, they get the grants. If they do not, they get nothing.
Miami-Dade County in Florida and Clark County in Nevada have changed their minds about harboring lawbreakers. The Department of Justice has sent letters to both counties certifying that they are now in compliance with the law and are now cleared for federal grants.
Other sanctuary cities are not so cooperative. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice for threatening to withhold federal funds earmarked for local law enforcement. Given the shooting gallery Chicago has become, it's difficult to see how more money will improve safety, especially on the city's South Side, where an average weekend of violence often produces more casualties than in Afghanistan.
In Washington, where today's "principled stand" can quickly be forgotten, Democrats have changed their view about an immigration plan they consistently supported for a decade. Democrats in Congress previously favored a policy that would have established a points system for selecting legal immigrants. Now that President Trump favors such a system, based on merit, Democrats suddenly oppose it. For such a U-turn the word "hypocrisy" was invented, but the left doesn't care. They are about votes and winning elections, not actually fixing an immigration system everyone agrees is broken and needs repair.
Under regulations concerning cities of refuge established in the Book of Numbers (35:25) and the code of the Levitical priesthood, once an individual had claimed asylum, he had to be taken from the city to stand trial. If he was found innocent, he was returned under guard to the city in which he had claimed asylum. When the High Priest died, the person could return to his property.
That is a far cry from what modern mayors and governors want for their illegal immigrants. For them there is to be no arrest, no charge and no trial. Some Maryland jurisdictions are talking about adding more localities to those that already allow undocumented immigrants to vote in local elections.
It won't be long before there are demands that they be allowed to vote in federal elections, which appears to be the objective of many Democrats who want and need the votes. They'd likely get them too, once undocumented immigrants become dependent on government programs.
Name a federal law you could get away with breaking. Could you find "sanctuary" away from the government's long arm?
The lawsuit by Chicago's mayor will likely reach the Supreme Court. That is what makes the elevation of Neil Gorsuch to that high bench so critical.
Cal Thomas, America's most-syndicated columnist, is the author of 10 books.