OPINION: The Fugitive Slave Law Revisited

By Carla Charter

A fugitive comes to Boston seeking Sanctuary.  Once arrived he began working for both a pie company and a clothing dealer.  That was until he was captured by Federal Agents, tried and under much protest from Boston residents sent back home.

It sounds like a headline ripped from today’s battle over sanctuary Cities and Federal versus States rights. Except it’s not. The Fugitive described above was none other than Anthony Burns, taken back to Virginia under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law which allowed federal sheriffs and agents to come North and retrieve fugitives who had come North seeking Sanctuary. Burns was returned to Virginia on June 2, 1854.

The similarities between the battle over the Fugitive Slave Law and the battle over today’s illegal immigrants seeking sanctuary is striking.  New England today still offers sanctuary, now though to a fugitive of a different kind. Illegals who have come here desperately looking for a better life. Working every day like any of us to try to better our situations.

Once again New England cities are offering sanctuary, not to the criminal, who loses the sanctuaries benevolence once they break the law. Only open instead to those who want to work and build a better life side by side with others in the country.

And once again the Federal Government has stepped in much as they did in the 1850’s this time retrieving fugitives once again and sending them back where they think they belong. Whether they or the adopted community they live in wants them to go or not.

Many of those being returned are immigrants, who much like us, going to work every day, parents taking their children to school or the best and the brightest brought here through no fault of their own, educating themselves, so they can give back to the country that gave them a chance. So once again we are back to States rights versus Federal rights, human rights versus border rights and once again history repeats itself as human lives are torn apart in front of our eyes.

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