What are “Sanctuary” Cities?

By: Ioana Raducu, Law Offices of Ally Bolour, APC

The “sanctuary” movement started in the early 19080s, where religious institutions provided refuge and services to undocumented immigrants. The movement started spreading and “sanctuary” cities started forming. “Sanctuary Cities” are cities where the local law enforcement permits residence by illegal immigrants and refuses to report them to federal immigration authorities. The idea is that illegal immigrants should fear deportation less when they reside in “sanctuary” cities. Officials of such cities want to allow illegal immigrants the opportunity to use the state’s services, enroll their children in school and make it easier for them to report crimes. Cities refuse to hold arrestees in jail due to their immigration status. “Sanctuary” can also be offered through counties and even States.

In January 2017, a bill was proposed in the California State Legislature to make California a “sanctuary State”. None of the counties in California comply with the detainer request, but local law enforcement will only honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers for immigrants who have committed serious crimes and have been convicted for them, or if they are currently registered in the California Sex and Arson Registry. Even if an immigrant fits into such categories, it is still up to the State’s discretion whether to detain and hand over the aliens to ICE.[1] Los Angeles, among other cities and counties in California, is a “sanctuary county” and will not honor ICE detainer except for reasons of assault, domestic violence or felonious crimes. Los Angeles adopted Special Order 40 in 1979, which bars officers from initiating contact with a person solely to determine their immigration status.

What does this mean for immigrants who want to get in contact with State government but fear to do so due to their immigration status? For immigrants living in “sanctuary” cities, counties, or states, they can freely contact local enforcement. Local enforcement will not detain them or report them to ICE for deportation, unless said immigrant has committed a serious crime and was charged for it. Local enforcement wants to help undocumented immigrants to feel safe and report crimes, arguing that reporting their immigrant status would undermine community relations and dissuade residents from cooperating with crime prevention efforts.

The name “sanctuary” city can be deceiving. Although the local enforcement will not give immigrants up, there is nothing stopping ICE from raiding the streets and detaining people on their own. What the city can do at that moment is refuse to detain the immigrants in their local jails, but there is not much else they can do to stop ICE. Immigrants are still targets for ICE detention, even in “sanctuary” cities.

There are many people and cities that oppose the policies of “sanctuary” cities, claiming that they are undermining federal enforcement efforts and compromise public safety. Under a new executive order, President Trump states his plans to ensure that all cities, counties and states comply with the federal immigration laws. The order warns that the jurisdictions that do not comply with the federal immigration enforcement efforts will lose their federal funding, claiming that “these jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.”[2]

The order is consistent with the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), which was issued under the Obama administration. It states that “failure to remedy violations could result in withholding of grants, termination of grants and disbarment or ineligibility for future grants.” [3]