Sanctuary city

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Not to be confused with Cities of Refuge.

In the United States or Canada, a sanctuary city is a city that has adopted a policy of protecting undocumented immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws in the country in which they are now living illegally. Such a policy can be set out expressly in a law (de jure) or observed only in practice (de facto). The term applies generally to cities that do not use municipal funds or resources to enforce national immigration laws, and usually forbid police or municipal employees to inquire about a person's immigration status. The designation has no precise legal meaning.[1]

In the United Kingdom, a “City of Sanctuary” is a city that provides services, such as housing and education to asylum seekers, illegal immigrants who are seeking formal refugee status.[2] Glasgow is a noted City of Sanctuary.[3][4]


The concept of a sanctuary city goes back thousands of years. It has been associated with Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Baha'i, Sikhism, and Hinduism. [5] In Western Civilization, sanctuary cities can be traced back to the Old Testament. The Book of Numbers names six cities of refuge in which the perpetrators of manslaughter could claim the right of asylum. Outside of these cities, blood vengeance against such perpetrators was allowed by law.[6] In 392 CE, Christian Roman emperor Theodosius I set up sanctuaries under church control. In 600 CE in medieval England, churches were given a general right of sanctuary, and some cities were set up as sanctuaries by Royal charter. The general right of sanctuary for churches in England was abolished in 1621 CE.[5]

United States[edit]

Local governments in certain cities in the United States began designating themselves as sanctuary cities during the 1980s.[7][8] Some have questioned the accuracy of the term "sanctuary city" as used in the USA.[9] The policy was first initiated in 1979 in Los Angeles, to prevent police from inquiring about the immigration status of arrestees. The internal policy, "Special Order 40", states: "Officers shall not initiate police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person. Officers shall not arrest nor book persons for violation of title 8, section 1325 of the United States Immigration code (Illegal Entry)."[10] These cities have adopted "sanctuary" ordinances banning city employees and police officers from asking people about their immigration status.[11][12]

The American cities are:

  • Following the passage of SB 1070, a state law, few if any cities in Arizona are "sanctuary cities." A provision of SB 1070 requires local authorities to "contact federal immigration authorities if they develop reasonable suspicion that a person they've detained or arrested is in the country illegally."[13] The Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates restrictive immigration policies, labels only one city in the state, South Tucson, a "sanctuary city"; the label is because South Tucson does not honor ICE detainers "unless ICE pays for cost of detention."[13]

In 2013, Connecticut passed the a law which gives local law enforcement officers discretion to carry out immigration detainer requests only for suspected felons. [17]

  • In 2011, Maine governor Paul LePage rescinded a 2004 executive order that prohibited state officials from inquiring about immigration status of individual seeking public assistance stating “it is the intent of this administration to promote rather than hinder the enforcement of federal immigration law”. In 2015 Governor LePage accused the city of Portland, Maine of being a sanctuary city. Portland city officials, however, did not accept that characterization. Portland cooperates with federal authorities although “city employees are prohibited from asking about the immigration status of people seeking city services unless compelled by a court or law”[19]
  • In 2008, Baltimore and Takoma Park are sometimes identified as sanctuary cities.[20] However, "[m]ost local governments in Maryland — including Baltimore — still share information with the federal government."[21] In 2016, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that she did not consider Baltimore to be a "sanctuary city."[22]
  • Boston has an ordinance, enacted in 2014, that bars the Boston Police Department "from detaining anyone based on their immigration status unless they have a criminal warrant."[23] Cambridge, Chelsea, Somerville, Orleans, Northampton, and Springfield have similar legislation.[23] In August of 2016, Boston Police Commissioner, William B. Evans re-issued a memo stating ““all prisoners who are subject to ICE Detainers must receive equal access to bail commissioners, which includes notifying said prisoner of his or her right to seek bail.” Bail commissioners are informed of the person’s status on an ICE detainer list and may set bail accordingly.[24]
  • Detroit and Ann Arbor are sometimes referred to as "sanctuary cities" because they "have anti-profiling ordinances that generally prohibit local police from asking about the immigration status of people who are not suspected of any crime."[25] Unlike San Francisco's ordinance, however, the Detroit and Ann Arbor policies do not bar local authorities from cooperating and assisting ICE and Customs and Border Protection, and both cities frequently do so.[25]
  • Minneapolis has an ordinance, adopted in 2003,[26] that directs local law enforcement officers "not to 'take any law enforcement action' for the sole purpose of finding undocumented immigrants, or ask an individual about his or her immigration status."[27] The Minneapolis ordinance does not bar cooperation with federal authorities: "The city works cooperatively with the Homeland Security, as it does with all state and federal agencies, but the city does not operate its programs for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws. The Homeland Security has the legal authority to enforce immigration laws in the United States, in Minnesota and in the city."[26]
New York
New Jersey

State law passed in 1987: "Oregon Revised Statute 181.850, which prohibits law enforcement officers at the state, county or municipal level from enforcing federal immigration laws that target people based on their race or ethnic origin, when those individuals are not suspected of any criminal activities. [31][32]

  • Beaverton city council passed a resolution in January 2017 stating, in part, "The City of Beaverton is committed to living its values as a welcoming city for all individuals ...regardless of a person's ... immigration status" and that they would abide by Oregon state law of not enforcing federal immigration laws.[33]
  • Corvallis[34]
  • Portland[35]

Electoral politics[edit]

This issue entered presidential politics in the race for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 2008. Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo ran on an anti-illegal immigration platform and specifically attacked sanctuary cities. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney accused former mayor Rudy Giuliani of running New York City as a sanctuary city.[38] Giuliani's campaign responded saying that Romney ran a sanctuary Governor's mansion, and that New York City is not a "haven" for undocumented immigrants.[38]

After the murder of a restaurant waitress in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in late June 2009 that was suspected to be perpetrated by three undocumented immigrants (one of whom was not deported despite being arrested for two prior DUI incidents), then mayoral candidate Richard J. Berry decried the city's sanctuary city policy. He also vowed, if elected, to repeal the policy that has been continued by the incumbent mayor, Martin Chávez.[39]

Following the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco (a sanctuary city) by an undocumented immigrant, Hillary Clinton told CNN on 8 July 2015: "The city made a mistake, not to deport someone that the federal government strongly felt should be deported. I have absolutely no support for a city that ignores the strong evidence that should be acted on."[40] The following day, her campaign stated: "Hillary Clinton believes that sanctuary cities can help further public safety, and she has defended those policies going back years."[41]

Political action[edit]

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 addressed the relationship between the federal government and local governments. Minor crimes, such as shoplifting, became grounds for possible deportation.[42] Additionally, the legislation outlawed cities' bans against municipal workers' reporting persons' immigration status to federal authorities.[43]

Section 287(g) makes it possible for state and local law enforcement personnel to enter into agreements with the federal government to be trained in immigration enforcement and, subsequent to such training, to enforce immigration law. However, it provides no general power for immigration enforcement by state and local authorities.[44] This provision was implemented by local and state authorities in five states, California, Arizona, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina by the end of 2006.[45] On June 16, 2007 the United States House of Representatives passed an amendment to a United States Department of Homeland Security spending bill that would withhold federal emergency services funds from sanctuary cities. Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) was the sponsor of this amendment. 50 Democrats joined Republicans to support the amendment. The amendment would have to pass the United States Senate to become effective.[46]

In 2007, Republican representatives introduced legislation targeting sanctuary cities. Reps. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., Thelma Drake, R-Va., Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Tom Tancredo introduced the bill. The legislation would make undocumented immigrant status a felony, instead of a civil offense. Also, the bill targets sanctuary cities by withholding up to 50 percent of Department of Homeland Security funds from the cities.[47]

On September 5, 2007, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told a House committee that he certainly wouldn't tolerate interference by sanctuary cities that would block his "Basic Pilot Program" that requires employers to validate the legal status of their workers. "We're exploring our legal options. I intend to take as vigorous legal action as the law allows to prevent that from happening, prevent that kind of interference."[48][49] On May 5, 2009, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue signed a bill into law that prohibited sanctuary city policies in the state of Georgia.[50]

On June 5, 2009, the Tennessee state House passed a bill banning the implementation of sanctuary city policies within the state of Tennessee.[51]

In June 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed legislation to ban sanctuary cities, SB 9, to the Special Session agenda for the State Legislature.[52] Public hearings on the sanctuary cities legislation were held before the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on June 13, 2011.[53]

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to cut all federal funding for Sanctuary Cities on his first day in office.[54]


According to one study by Loren Collingwood, assistant professor of political science at University of California at Riverside, sanctuary policy itself has no statistically meaningful effect on crime.[55]


In Canada, Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, have declared themselves sanctuary cities since 2014.[56][57]

United Kingdom and Ireland[edit]

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, a “City of Sanctuary” or “Places of Sanctuary”, is a city that provides services, such as housing, education, and cultural integration, to asylum seekers (i.e. persons fleeing one country and seeking protection in another).[58] The movement began in Sheffield in the north of England in 2005. It was motivated by a national policy adopted in 1999 to disperse asylum seekers to different towns and cities in the UK. In 2009, the city council of Sheffield drew up a manifesto outlining key areas of concern and 100 supporting organizations signed on.[59]

A “City of Sanctuary” is not necessarily a formal governmental designation. The organization “City of Sanctuary” encourages local grass roots groups throughout the UK and Ireland to build a culture of hospitality towards asylum seekers.[60]

Glasgow is a noted City of Sanctuary in Scotland. In 2000 the city council accepted their first asylum seekers relocated by the Home Office. The Home Office provided funding to support asylum seekers but would also forcibly deport them ("removal siezures") if it was determined they could not stay in the UK. As of 2010 Glasgow had accepted 22,000 asylum seekers from 75 different nations. In 2007 local residents upset by the human impact of removal siezures, organized watches to warn asylum seekers when Home Office vans were in the neighborhood. They also organized protests and vigils which led to the ending of the removal seizures. [61][62]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fimrite, Peter (2007-04-23). "Newsom says S.F. won't help with raids". SFGate. 
  2. ^ Marishka Van Steenbergen, “City of Sanctuary concern for welfare of asylum seekers as housing contract goes to private security firm”, The Guardian, 10 May 2012
  3. ^ Vivienne Nicoll, “City offering sanctuary to refugees from Syria”, Evening Times, 25 Augst 2014
  4. ^ Adam Forrest “Sanctuary City”, The Big Issue, June 2010
  5. ^ a b Jennifer Bagelman, “Sanctuary City: A Suspended State” Palgrave, 2016
  6. ^ Metzger, Bruce M.; Coogan, Michael D., eds. (1993). The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford University Press. p. 125. ISBN 0-19-504645-5. 
  7. ^ Mancina, Peter (2016). In the Spirit of Sanctuary: Sanctuary City Policy Advocacy and the Production of Sanctuary-Power in San Francisco, California (PDF). Nashville: Vanderbilt University Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 
  8. ^ Mancina, Peter (2012). "The Birth of a Sanctuary City: A History of Governmental Sanctuary in San Francisco". In Lippert, Randy; Rehaag, Sean. Sanctuary Practices in International Perspectives: Migration, Citizenship, and Social Movements. New York: Routledge. pp. 205–18. ISBN 978-0-415-67346-4. 
  9. ^ ""Sanctuary Cities," Trust Acts, and Community Policing Explained". American Immigration Council. Retrieved 2016-10-28. 
  10. ^ "Spec40orig". Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  11. ^ "Sanctuary Cities, USA". Ohio Jobs & Justice Political Action Committee. Salvi Communications. 
  12. ^ "'Sanctuary Cities' Embrace Undocumented Immigrants – Human Events". Human Events. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Tim Steller, Tucson a 'sanctuary city'? Not so fast, Arizona Daily Star (February 23, 2016).
  14. ^ a b c d Cindy Carcamo, Kate Mather & Dakota Smith, Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration leaves a lot unanswered for sanctuary cities like L.A., Los Angeles Times (November 15, 2016).
  15. ^ Kate Mather & Cindy Chang, LAPD will not help deport immigrants under Trump, chief says, Los Angeles Times (November 14, 2016).
  16. ^ "Boulder City Council Approves Sanctuary City Status". CBS Denver. 4 January 2017. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  17. ^ Neil Vigdor, “Connecticut could be in crosshairs of Trump's sanctuary city crackdown”, CT Post, 28 November 2016
  18. ^ Nora Naughton, “Groups rally to support undocumented immigrants”, Stamford Advocate, 27 June 2016
  19. ^ Randy Billings, Despite LePage remark, 'sanctuary city' label doesn’t fit Portland, officials say, Portland Press Herald (September 15, 2015).
  20. ^ Laura Schwartzman, Legislation would ban Takoma Park sanctuary policies, Capital News Service (March 19, 2008).
  21. ^ John Fritze, House passes 'sanctuary city' bill, reigniting immigration debate, Baltimore Sun (July 23, 2016).
  22. ^ Yvonne Wenger, Mayor: Baltimore is a 'welcoming city' for immigrants and refugees, Baltimore Sun (November 16, 2016).
  23. ^ a b Kyle Scott Clauss, Boston Already Has Some Sanctuary City Protections: Thanks to the 2014 Trust Act, police can’t detain someone based on their immigration status, Boston Magazine (November 15, 2016).
  24. ^ Jack Encarnacao, “Cops Increasingly Denying Requests to Hold Illegals”, Boston Herald, 10 January, 1017
  25. ^ a b Jonathan Oosting, Push to ban 'sanctuary cities' in Michigan faces criticism from immigrant advocates, MLive (September 30, 2015).
  26. ^ a b Ibrahim Hirsi, What the conflict over 'sanctuary cities'could mean for the Twin Cities, Minn Post (November 23, 2016).
  27. ^ Mike Mullen, Betsy Hodges: Minneapolis will remain a 'sanctuary city,' despite Trump threats, City Pages (November 14, 2016).
  28. ^ City Policy Concerning Aliens (PDF), 1989 – via 
  29. ^ "In final State of the City speech, Miner declares Syracuse a sanctuary city". WRVO Public Media. 13 January 2017. Retrieved 13 January 2017. 
  30. ^ Terrence T. McDonald, The Jersey Journal, November 23, 2016, (via), Jersey City will protect immigrants from 'hate and prejudice,' councilman says, Retrieved November 24, 2016
  31. ^
  32. ^ Wilson, Conrad (December 6, 2016). "Potential Oregon Ballot Measure Targets 'Sanctuary' Immigration Law". Oregon Public Broadcasting. 
  33. ^ Mandy Feder-Sawyer, "Beaverton Becomes Sanctuary City" Beaverton Valley Times, 11 January 2017
  34. ^ Wilson, Conrad (December 13, 2016). "Corvallis Declares Itself Sanctuary City". Oregon Public Broadcasting. 
  35. ^
  37. ^ "The Politics of Refuge: Sanctuary Cities, Crime, and Undocumented Immigration" (PDF). Prof. Loren Collingwood, University of California, Riverside. 2016. , Retrieved November 29, 2016
  38. ^ a b Tapper, Jake; Claiborne, Ron (2007-08-08). "Romney: Giuliani's NYC 'Sanctuary' for undocumented Immigrants". ABC News. 
  39. ^ Albuquerque News Archived July 31, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  40. ^ Eric Bradner, CNN (7 July 2015). "Clinton: 'People should and do trust me' -". CNN. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  41. ^ Suzanne Gamboa. "Clinton Campaign: Sanctuary Cities Can Help Public Safety". NBC News. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  42. ^ Johnson, Dawn Marie (2001). "LEGISLATIVE REFORM: The AEDPA and the IIRIRA: Treating Misdemeanors as Felonies for Immigration Purposes". Journal of Legislation. 27: 477. 
  43. ^ Brownstein, Ron (August 22, 2007). "'Sanctuary' as battleground". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 21, 2011. 
  44. ^ IIRIRA 287(g)
  45. ^ Katie Zezima, Massachusetts Set for Its Officers to Enforce Immigration Law The New York Times, December 13, 2006
  46. ^ "House Passes Tancredo Immigration Amendment". PBS. June 20, 2007. 
  47. ^ Moscoso, Eunice (September 18, 2007). "Legislation introduced to make illegal presence a felony; punish "sanctuary cities"". Austin American-Statesman. 
  48. ^ Hudson, Audrey (September 6, 2007). "Chertoff warns meddling 'sanctuary cities'". The Washington Times. Retrieved May 26, 2011. 
  49. ^ "Holding the Department of Homeland Security Responsible for Security Gaps". US House of Representatives. September 5, 2007. Retrieved May 26, 2011. 
  50. ^ "Georgia Outlaws 'Sanctuary Cities'". Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  51. ^ "House Passes Bill Prohibiting Immigrant Sanctuary Cities" (June 05, 2009) The Chattanoogan.asp
  52. ^ "Perry adds sanctuary cities to special session" (June 7, 2011) Houston Chronicle
  53. ^ "Texas Legislature Online – Upcoming Senate Committee Meetings". Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  54. ^ Sprunt, Barbara (November 9, 2016). "Here Is What Donald Trump Wants To Do In His First 100 Days". ,
  55. ^ "Sanctuary cities do not experience an increase in crime". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-10-03. 
  56. ^ Van Dongen, Matthew (February 12, 2014). "Hamilton tary city' for newcomers who fear deportation". The Hamilton Spectator. 
  57. ^ Nursall, Kim (February 12, 2014). "Hamilton declares itself 'sanctuary city' for undocumented immigrants". Toronto Star. 
  58. ^ Marishka Van Steenbergen, “City of Sanctuary concern for welfare of asylum seekers as housing contract goes to private security firm”, The Guardian, 10 May 2012
  59. ^ John Darling, Craig Barnett, Sarah Eldridge “City of Sanctuary – a UK initiative for hospitality”, Forced Migration Review, 9 October 2016
  60. ^ “About City of Sanctuary”, City of
  61. ^ Vivienne Nicoll, “City offering sanctuary to refugees from Syria”, Evening Times, 25 Augst 2014
  62. ^ Adam Forrest “Sanctuary City”, The Big Issue, June 2010

Further reading[edit]