What’s All the Fuss about Sanctuary Cities?

  • Mar 31 2017

Lately, there has been a lot of talk in the news about “Sanctuary Cities,” especially in light of President Trump’s new immigration policies. The term has been around for a while, but has only recently gained popular attention. Still, although familiar with the term, many people remain unclear as to what Sanctuary Cities are, exactly.

A Definition

The term “Sanctuary City” really has no universal definition (thus likely accounting for much of the confusion). It is, instead, a broad term used to describe certain jurisdictions that have policies and laws in place to allow immigrants to live and work in the jurisdiction without having the proper documentation. In so doing, a Sanctuary City acts as a shield for undocumented immigrants, basically allowing them to live as members of the community, undetected by the federal government. The term “Sanctuary City” is actually a misnomer in that the jurisdiction is not necessarily a city per se, but can be a county or even a State.

The Purpose

One question often asked is why any jurisdiction would want to protect undocumented immigrants? The reasons range from political to financial to humanitarian. There can be any number of explanations as to why a person is undocumented. That person can still be a productive member of the community and workforce. The issue, largely off the pubic radar, has taken on a new urgency because of the stricter deportation policies the Trump administration has put in place. Generally, under prior immigration policies, undocumented immigrants who were convicted of a crime where subject to deportation, regardless of whether they lived in a sanctuary city or not. However, President Trump’s tougher policies cast a broader net, targeting any undocumented immigrant who has “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” This includes individuals who were never actually charged, let alone convicted. Many Sanctuary jurisdictions disagree with this policy (again for a number of political, financial and humanitarian reasons), feeling that it is too far-reaching. Thus, by using their status as Sanctuary Cities, they are defying the new policies.

How Does it Work?

Basically, the federal government depends on local law enforcement to communicate with them regarding the status of immigrants within their jurisdiction. For instance, if an individual is arrested, they are taken to the local police station. There, they are fingerprinted, and those prints are placed into a database.  The database will reveal that person’s immigration status, including if he/she is undocumented. The federal government has access to this information and will request that the local authorities detain the undocumented individual for possible deportation. By relying on their status as a Sanctuary Jurisdiction, local authorities can refuse to communicate and cooperate with the federal government so as to protect the individual from immigration authorities.

The Repercussions

The Trump administration has responded to local defiance by proposing sanctions against Sanctuary Cities. The sanctions would include the blocking of federal funding to any jurisdiction that harbors undocumented immigrants and fails to cooperate with the federal government’s new deportation policies. It seems certain that this conflict between federal and local policies will make for some interesting courtroom drama, and will stay in the headlines for some time to come.

Posted in: Deportation Defense, Immigration Law