Sanctuary city

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Not to be confused with Cities of Refuge.

Sanctuary city is a term that is applied by some to cities in the United States or Canada that have policies designed to not prosecute unauthorized immigrants. These practices can be by law (de jure) or they can be by habit (de facto). The term generally applies to cities that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual's immigration status. The designation has no legal meaning.[1]


United States[edit]

There is no legal definition of a sanctuary city, county or state.[2] Certain cities in the United States began designating themselves as sanctuary cities during the 1980s.[1] 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)."[3] Some of the 31 American cities are Washington, D.C.; New York City (see also Illegal immigration in New York City); Jersey City; Los Angeles; Philadelphia, San Francisco; Santa Ana; San Diego; San Jose; Oakland; Salt Lake City; Houston; Detroit; Chicago; Salinas, California; Minneapolis; Miami; Denver; Baltimore; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; New Haven; Somerville; Cambridge; and Portland, Maine.[4][dead link] These cities have adopted "sanctuary" ordinances banning city employees and police officers from asking people about their immigration status.[5][6]

The Common Council of the city of Madison, Wisconsin enacted an ordinance on 5 March 1985 forbidding city employees, ostensibly including city police, to co-operate with immigration officials.[7]

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.[8] Giuliani's campaign responded saying that Romney ran a sanctuary Governor's mansion, and that New York City is not a "haven" for illegal immigrants.[8]

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), 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.[9]

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: "I have absolutely no support for a city that ignores the strong evidence that should be acted on."[10] 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."[11]

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.[12] Additionally, the legislation outlawed cities' bans against municipal workers' reporting persons' immigration status to federal authorities.[13]

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.[14] This provision was implemented by local and state authorities in five states, California, Arizona, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina by the end of 2006.[15] On June 16, 2007 the United States House of Representatives passed an amendment to a Department of Homeland Security spending bill that would withhold federal emergency services funds from sanctuary cities. Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) 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.[16]

In 2007, Republican representatives introduced legislation targeting sanctuary cities. Reps. Brian Bilbray, R-Cal., Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., Thelma Drake, R-Va., Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Tom Tancredo, R-Colo introduced the bill. The legislation would make illegal 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.[17]

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."[18][19] On May 5, 2009, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue signed a bill into law that prohibited sanctuary city policies in the state of Georgia.[20]

On June 5, 2009, the Tennessee state House passed a bill banning the implementation of sanctuary city policies within the state of Tennessee.[21]

In June 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed legislation to ban sanctuary cities, SB 9, to the Special Session agenda for the State Legislature.[22] Public hearings on the sanctuary cities legislation were held before the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on June 13, 2011.[23]


In Canada, Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, have declared themselves as sanctuary cities since 2014.[24][25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Fimrite, Peter (2007-04-23). "Newsom says S.F. won't help with raids". SFGate. 
  2. ^ Michael Pearson, What's a 'sanctuary city,' and why should you care?, CNN July 8, 2015 (retrieved 23 July 2015)
  3. ^ "Spec40orig". Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Sanctuary Cities, USA". Ohio Jobs & Justice Political Action Committee (Salvi Communications). 
  6. ^ "'Sanctuary Cities' Embrace Illegal Immigrants - Human Events". Human Events. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  7. ^ The Immigration Time Bomb (1989)
  8. ^ a b Tapper, Jake; Claiborne, Ron (2007-08-08). "Romney: Giuliani's NYC 'Sanctuary' for illegal Immigrants". ABC News. 
  9. ^ Albuquerque News[dead link]
  10. ^ Eric Bradner, CNN (7 July 2015). "Clinton: 'People should and do trust me' -". CNN. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  11. ^ Suzanne Gamboa. "Clinton Campaign: Sanctuary Cities Can Help Public Safety". NBC News. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  12. ^ Johnson, Dawn Marie (2001). "LEGISLATIVE REFORM: The AEDPA and the IIRIRA: Treating Misdemeanors as Felonies for Immigration Purposes". Journal of Legislation 27: 477. 
  13. ^ Brownstein, Ron (August 22, 2007). "'Sanctuary' as battleground". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 21, 2011. 
  14. ^ IIRIRA 287(g)
  15. ^ Katie Zezima, Massachusetts Set for Its Officers to Enforce Immigration Law The New York Times, December 13, 2006
  16. ^ "House Passes Tancredo Immigration Amendment". PBS. June 20, 2007. 
  17. ^ Moscoso, Eunice (September 18, 2007). "Legislation introduced to make illegal presence a felony; punish "sanctuary cities"". Austin American-Statesman. 
  18. ^ Hudson, Audrey (September 6, 2007). "Chertoff warns meddling ‘sanctuary cities’". The Washington Times. Retrieved May 26, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Holding the Department of Homeland Security Responsible for Security Gaps". US House of Representatives. September 5, 2007. Retrieved May 26, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Georgia Outlaws 'Sanctuary Cities'". Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  21. ^ "House Passes Bill Prohibiting Immigrant Sanctuary Cities" (June 05, 2009) The Chattanoogan.asp
  22. ^ "Perry adds sanctuary cities to special session" (June 7, 2011) Houston Chronicle
  23. ^ "Texas Legislature Online - Upcoming Senate Committee Meetings". Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  24. ^ Van Dongen, Matthew (February 12, 2014). "Hamilton to become 'sanctuary city' for newcomers who fear deportation". The Hamilton Spectator. 
  25. ^ Nursall, Kim (February 12, 2014). "Hamilton declares itself 'sanctuary city' for undocumented immigrants". Toronto Star.