Sanctuary City: The Meaning, History, and Significance of Adopting These Protective Policies

*This blog post is part one of a four-part blog series dedicated to the topic of sanctuary cities.

Barstow Presbytarian Church, Barstow, Texas

Presbyterian Church, Barstow, Texas

In January 25, 2017, President Donald John Trump signed the Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. The order contains a clause that targets sanctuary cities in the United States. Arguing national security concerns, President Trump’s executive order seeks to cut billions of dollars in federal funding from sanctuary cities, counties, and states that harbor undocumented immigrants. If implemented, the order would negatively impact sanctuary places across the nation.

What is a sanctuary city? While there is no single definition for a “sanctuary city,” it usually refers to cities, counties, and states that have adopted policies that limit their cooperation or involvement with federal immigration authorities. In general, this means that these places decline most requests to detain, pursue, or report undocumented immigrants who have had contact with local law enforcement. However, these protective policies do not safeguard immigrants who commit serious or violent crimes.

The idea of sanctuary cities dates to the early 1980s. At the time, Central Americans were fleeing the civil war and violence in countries like El Salvador and Guatemala. Yet, the United States government initially refused to grant them refugee status. In response, churches decided to provide sanctuary to these immigrants.

San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall, San Francisco, California

The concept was later adopted by communities whose local officials viewed the federal immigration policies as harsh towards individuals who were arrested for minor, non-violent crimes. Furthermore, both local police and politicians have indicated that not collaborating with immigration authorities encourage immigrants to report crimes to local authorities and make communities safer. This concern is reiterated in a report published in May 2013 by the University of Illinois at Chicago. The report’s findings reveal that when local authorities collaborate with federal immigration officials, it becomes more difficult to investigate crimes because victims or witnesses that are undocumented immigrants are less likely to come forward since they are afraid of being detained and deported.

There is not an exact figure as to the number of sanctuary cities and counties in the United States. However, according to data collected from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, there are 635 counties where the local police does not currently collaborate with requests from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to hold immigrants in detention (ICE detainers) for additional time.

Despite the president’s threat to withhold federal funding, mayors and police chiefs from major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco have reaffirmed their commitment to uphold sanctuary polices. Moreover, they have expressed their opposition to the executive order. Local government officials from these cities argue that cutting federal funding from sanctuary cities would generate adverse effects to the economy, public safety, and social fabric of these communities.

Yet, some of the claims made by opponents of sanctuary cities are:

  • Sanctuary cities encourage undocumented immigration;
  • Sanctuary cities compromise public safety because it results in crimes that could have been avoided through deportation; and,
  • Sanctuary cities provide haven for drug cartels, gangs, and terrorist cells—since their activities are less likely to be detected and reported by law enforcement.
Local Police Assistance with Deportations

Local Police Assistance with Deportations by State, United States. Source: Immigrant Legal Resource Center

However, Tom K. Wong, associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego did a study on sanctuary counties. Wong analyzed a sample of 2,492 counties from an ICE dataset. In the sample, 608 counties were identified as “sanctuary counties” because local law enforcement did not accept detainers requests from ICE to hold suspected undocumented individuals in custody for additional time. Some of his findings include:

  • There are 35.5 fewer violent and property crimes per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties versus non-sanctuary ones;
  • On average, sanctuary counties had higher median incomes (by about $4,353);
  • There is lower poverty (by 2.3 percent) in sanctuary counties; and
  • Sanctuary counties have slightly lower unemployment rates (1.1 percent)

Therefore, Wong concluded that sanctuary counties that protect all of their residents have a lower crime and higher economic well-being than non-sanctuary counties.

 As of the writing of this blog, the executive order is under litigation. San Francisco was the first city to sue the president arguing that it is a violation of the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment.

The president argues that implementation of the executive order will ensure the public safety of the nation. However, by targeting sanctuary cities, the order will only serve an antithetical result, as the public safety, economy, and social fabric of local communities will be affected. It will discourage undocumented immigrants from collaborating with local law enforcement, dissuade them from contributing to the local economy, and ultimately separate them from their families. What policies does your community currently have that would identify it as a sanctuary? How have sanctuary policies benefited or affected your community?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

 

 

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