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What is a “Sanctuary City” and what are the Sanctuary City policies?

The term “Sanctuary City” is applied to cities that do not cooperate with the federal government’s enforcement of immigration law by not permitting municipal funds or resources to be used in the furtherance of immigration enforcement.  Further, these cities embrace policies to instruct local or state government employees not to notify federal agencies of the presence of illegal aliens in their communities. Simply put, local police or city employees will not enquire about an individual’s immigration status or take a role in identification and detention of illegal aliens. Roughly 300 jurisdictions around the country are estimated to have adopted sanctuary policies. Many of the US’s largest cities are designated as sanctuary cities – Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Dallas, New York City, Washington D.C. and Miami are among those designated.

The non-enforcement of federal immigration law by these municipalities should mean that an undocumented immigrant need not live in hiding out of fear of being categorized as in violation of immigration law by the local police or city employees. Some interested parties believe sanctuary cities to be contrary to provisions in the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) requiring local governments to cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit (ICE) in the deportation and removal of “illegal aliens” who are either undocumented immigrants or immigrants who have violated certain terms of US immigration law.  The current Trump Administration is in this camp.  Recently, the Federal Government has blocked funding to sanctuary cities and this block is currently being challenged in the court system.

With the current climate and increased enforcement regime, many undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities still express anxiety and concern that a simple trip to the supermarket to purchase milk will end up with them being placed in detention awaiting removal proceedings. Unfortunately, this collateral impact of the current environment is a contradiction to the reason for the adoption of sanctuary policies: fostering greater openness and participation among undocumented immigrants and their communities, encouraging the reporting of crimes, the enrollment of children in local schools, and the use of health and social services. We have seen mayors and public officials of sanctuary cities become more vocal and the looming court battle will shape exactly how sanctuary cities develop in the future.

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