To Beth Breeding, Mr. Goodlatte’s Communications Director

Dear Beth,

I want to thank you for speaking to me again when I stopped by the Congressman’s office on Tuesday. Though my daughter had a great time visiting the Impressionists exhibit on her own, I wish she could have spoken to you about her trip to Russia next month. I’m impressed by anyone who can learn such a challengingly unfamiliar langauge.

I also wish it were possible for Mr. Goodlatte’s constituent form letters to communicate such an open and friendly tone. I realize written documents aimed at a necessarily wide audience can never achieve that effect, but as I said on Tuesday, the Congressman’s statements in his letters, press releases, and newsletter columns often seem unnecessarily antagonistic, simplistic, or inaccurate.

I have no idea to what extent you as his communications director shape these documents, but please understand that impressions of the Congressman’s character are largely defined by them. If a document contains an inaccuracy, the Congressman appears untruthful. If one contains a reductively simplistic argument, he seems simple minded. If his words strike an antagonistically partisan tone, he seems like some one who puts party loyalty above all else.

Those are all vague abstractions, so please let me walk through one concrete example. We spoke briefly about Mr. Goodlatte’s stance on sanctuary cities. While I largely disagree with his position, my point is about how he communicates it. According to his May 24th press release, his co-sponsored Davis-Oliver Act “contains many tools to enhance the safety of our communities, such as cracking down on sanctuary jurisdictions that needlessly jeopardize Americans’ lives.”

As you obviously know, sanctuary cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston instruct their police officers not to ask about the immigration status of people they arrest. If individuals are arrested for other reasons and these cities know they’re also in the U.S. illegally, the cities don’t automatically turn them over for deportation. The federal government has to make a request, and that request, according to multiple courts, is only a request. The Department of Homeland Security acknowledges that compliance is optional. So sanctuary cities are breaking no laws.

They do comply when they’ve jailed someone who is on a terrorist watch list or has prior felonies, but an undocumented immigrant isn’t going to get deported for a speeding ticket. As a result, immigrant communities are more likely to cooperate with their local police instead of fearing them, and local police in turn can better serve and protect. That cooperation enhances everyone’s safety.

Or at least that’s the idea. These cities are trying to reduce crime by exercising their legal option not to serve as front-line enforcers of federal immigration laws but instead focus on what they deem to be more immediately critical needs. A reasonable person could disagree. But the Congressman expresses opinions unreasonably and misleadingly. He wrote in October:

“So-called sanctuary cities are one of the worst examples of people thumbing their nose at the rule of law. These communities needlessly endanger American lives by adopting public policies refusing to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in its enforcement of federal immigration laws. As a result, thousands of criminal aliens have been released back into our neighborhoods to commit more crimes instead of being detained.”

While the Congressman is welcome to have negative opinions of sanctuary Cities, he is wrong to misrepresent them. They do not thumb “their nose at the rule of law.” They obey all laws. The phrase is designed to imply without overtly stating that these cities are violating “the rule of law.”

They also do not “endanger American lives.” Some illegal immigrants commit crimes, but that fact is unrelated to sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities did not allow immigrants into the country, legally or illegally, and they do not allow them to commit crimes once here. Like legal immigrants and native born citizens, some illegal immigrants do “endanger American lives.” And, like anywhere else, if they commit dangerous crimes in sanctuary cities, those cities do everything in their power to arrest them. And, like anywhere else, they comply with ICE to deport them.

The Congressman also uses the misleading phrase “criminal aliens” to imply that all undocumented immigrants, who are by this definition “criminal aliens,” are free to commit “more crimes.” That logic is circular. It also implies that all crimes of any kind somehow endanger lives. He then follows these misleading statements with a verifiably false statement:

“These sanctuary cities are known to become magnets for gangs, drug dealers, and other criminal aliens as safe havens to avoid apprehension, detention, and deportation under our immigration laws.”

There is no evidence that supports this statement and there is evidence that refutes it. I left a phone message for the Congressman in early March after his second mass conference call during which he said twice that sanctuary cities “have more crime.” Though he promised to respond to my message, he did not, so I will repeat what research has found. According to Highline College, Riverside, and the University of California:

“We find no statistically discernible difference in violent crime rate, rape, or property crime across the cities. Our findings provide evidence that sanctuary policies have no effect on crime rates, despite narratives to the contrary…. There is no generalizable or statistical evidence that crime increases after a city becomes a sanctuary.”

The researchers also state:

“In past statements, Trump has cited individual instances of crime, such as the Kathryn Steinle shooting in San Francisco, rather than any evidence that sanctuary cities ‘breed crime.'”

I believe this is the example that you brought up on Tuesday with me. I believe you said that the killer, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was an illegal immigrant who should never have been in country “endangering American lives” in the first place. I thoroughly agree. But that fact is unrelated to sanctuary cities and the Congressman’s claims about them.

These are complicated, divisive issues. I wish the Mr. Goodlatte’s would address them with the nuance they deserve and in a manner that did not breed more division. I do not object to different opinions, but I strongly object to misrepresentations, intentional or otherwise. And please also understand that Mr. Goodlatte’s words are his character for all of us who can’t know him personally. The above arguments do not paint a flattering picture of him.

Thank you so much for hearing me out. And don’t worry, I won’t be flooding your inbox with daily emails now. I wanted to follow-up on this one point since we had discussed it in person and because you welcomed me to when you kindly offered me your business card afterwards. I apologize for going on so long.

Many thanks,

Chris Gavaler

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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