America's cities reflect America's values

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  • Eric Garcetti: City dwellers the first line of defense against Trump's executive orders
  • People everywhere are responding in dramatic and unprecedented ways
  • .

Eric Garcetti is the mayor of Los Angeles and a former president of the Los Angeles City Council. The views expressed in this commentary are solely his.

(CNN)America has arrived at the kind of moment in history that does not come very often -- when we are being tested in ways that are so extraordinary, we rediscover ourselves. One day, we will look back on the first weeks of 2017 and ask ourselves what we did to stand up, speak out, and live up to our values.

Eric Garcetti
People everywhere are responding to this moment in dramatic and unprecedented ways. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded into downtown Los Angeles for the Women's March to rally for the values that make us American: freedom and justice, compassion and integrity, equality for all people.
Over the last few days, thousands have taken to airports to stand with refugees and other immigrants who have been stranded by executive orders, signed by our new President, that are widely seen as plainly discriminatory against the Islamic faith and cruelly indifferent to the plight of refugees fleeing war and violence.
These public demonstrations have been powerfully affirming moments for our communities -- periods of focused action that we cannot afford to waste. So in my conversations with people over the last few days, I have been making a simple ask: Instead of worrying about the most powerful people, can we turn our attention, resources, and energy to the most vulnerable?
That idea is taking on new resonance in America, especially in cities, which -- in all their diversity, and as representatives of America's values -- are emerging as more vital than at any other time in recent memory.
Today, more than 60 percent of Americans -- and rising -- live in cities. And in the new challenges facing our country, we're on the front lines. When the immigrants impacted by the President's executive orders arrive in the United States, they're landing in places like Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, New York, Chicago, Memphis, and Miami. To them, our cities are America -- and our country's global legacy in this generation may depend on whether we welcome the world as a friend, or meet it with a fist.
That's why I spent part of Sunday morning at LAX with the loved ones of people who were being detained at the airport. They are going through a very difficult, confusing, and painful time. I wanted to assure them that my city would honor a uniquely American tradition: standing as a place of refuge for people of every nationality and faith.
I gave them my word that I would advocate on their behalf -- and a few hours after my team and I discussed the situation with US Customs and Border Protection officials, three of the detainees were released and reunited with their families and friends. We're taking steps like creating the $10 million Los Angeles Justice Fund, so that immigrants in this city will have somewhere to turn for legal representation and more assurance that their constitutional rights will be protected if they face deportation proceedings.
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That is what's possible when mayors and cities lead with compassion and a belief in the dignity of all people.
When we're able to get those kind of results in the midst of the chaos that is dominating the headlines, it does more than touch the lives of a single person or family; it demonstrates to the world that America's moral leadership still means something. And that's something no election -- and no one person's signature -- can ever take away from us.