Sanctuary & Inclusive Democracy: The Stunning Victories of the 2017 Election Show It’s Time for Meaningful Policy Change

This Tuesday’s election was a mandate for inclusive democracy. Black and Latino voters turned out in record numbers to defeat candidates endorsed by Trump, who ran on his platform of fear and exclusion. The rising American demos has spoken against Trumpism, hate and bigotry, and stood up for the best ideals of American democracy. As Danica Roem of Virginia, the first open transgender person elected to a state-wide office put it, the election results show that democracy means everyone can be themselves without being discriminated against or living in fear, because “equality and inclusion won.”

Governor-elects Ralph Northam (D-VA) and Phil Murphy (D-NJ) ran against candidates who criminalized people of color, particularly immigrants, and called for an end to sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are communitites where the local government does not participate in federal civil immigration enforcement. As Demos and LatinoJustice PRLDEF clarified in our January 2017 report, they have every constitutional right to do so, as the federal government cannot force local officials to do its bidding and deport persons without probable cause of a crime.

Denouncing sanctuary cities has become a Trumpian campaign to pit neighbors against each other. Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate in the Virginia gubernatorial race, ran on a racial appeals platform, labelling immigrants as gang members. He and Kim Guadagno, the Republican in the New Jersey race, also ran Willie Horton-type ads falsely blaming sanctuary cities for crime. Both candidates bet on white supremacy and the false idea that all immigrants – most of whom are people of color – are criminals. But the demos spoke in large numbers against this ugly rhetoric by voting instead for candidates who say they support inclusivity and diversity.

Now, both New Jersey and Virginia must fully embrace sanctuary policies. In particular, Governor-elect Northam must support constitutional policies to stop state and local law enforcement collaboration with ICE and also put an end to racial profiling in policing. By not providing sanctuary, Virginia officials have been unconstitutionally collaborating with ICE and creating fear in immigrant communities. Just before Election Day, Northam flip-flopped on this issue, but now he cannot afford to disrespect the voters of color who elected him. Moreover, although Governor-elect Northam seems to think that whether to support sanctuary is a choice, in fact, the U.S. Constitution requires that local officials refrain from detaining persons based on civil immigration violations. Federal courts around the country have held so in over a dozen separate rulings and Virginia is not exempt from the due process rules of the U.S. Constitution. Governor Northam must ensure that Virginia cities, counties and the Commonwealth itself enact policies to stop arresting people based on immigration status and no longer feed Trump’s mass deportation machine that is tearing families of color apart.

The stunning victories in Tuesday’s election also indicate that voter suppression, another relic of the confederate past, must end. The people should be able to count on their elected officials to stop restricting the right to vote and other fundamental rights. Virginians resoundingly defeated Gillespie’s support of voter ID, purges of the voting rolls, and racial gerrymandering. It’s time to dismantle the system that perpetuates Jim Crow rules of the past, and move towards free, fair and accessible elections in Virginia and across the country. Citizens with felony convictions must also have their voting rights fully restored. Elected officials should enact policies like automatic voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting, early voting, and language access, all of which make it easier for all citizens to vote.

Times are changing and meaningful policy changes based on inclusive democracy—where everyone can be themselves and be treated equally before the law—must be the hallmark of the post-Trump era. The people have spoken, and Demos will be providing further policy information to candidates and elected officials to ensure that we never go backwards again.

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