Suvarna Garge (Editor)

Sanctuary city

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In the United States and Canada, a sanctuary city is a loosely defined term for a city that welcomes refugees and illegal immigrants. The designation has no precise legal meaning, but generally applies to cities that do not use municipal funds or resources to enforce national immigration laws, and may forbid their police or municipal employees to inquire about a person's immigration status or share such information with immigration enforcement – and by ensuring that all residents have access to city services, regardless of immigration status. Such a policy can be set out expressly in a law (de jure) or observed only in practice (de facto).


In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the term refers to cities that are committed to welcoming refugees, asylum seekers and others who are seeking safety. Such cities are now found in 80 towns, cities and local areas in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The emphasis is on building bridges of connection and understanding, which is done through awareness raising, befriending schemes and forming cultural connections in the arts, sport, health, education, faith groups and other sectors of society. Glasgow, Sheffield and Swansea are noted Cities of Sanctuary.


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. In Western Civilization, sanctuary cities can be traced back to the Old Testament. The Book of Numbers commands the selection of six cities of refuge in which the perpetrators of accidental manslaughter could claim the right of asylum. Outside of these cities, blood vengeance against such perpetrators was allowed by law. In 392 AD, Christian Roman emperor Theodosius I set up sanctuaries under church control. In 600 AD 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 AD.

United States

Berkeley, California became the first city government in the United States to pass a sanctuary resolution on November 8, 1971. Additional local governments in certain cities in the United States began designating themselves as sanctuary cities during the 1980s. Some have questioned the accuracy of the term "sanctuary city" as used in the USA. 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)." These cities have adopted "sanctuary" ordinances banning city employees and police officers from asking people about their immigration status.

Electoral politics

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 New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani of running it as a sanctuary city. 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.

Following the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco (a sanctuary city) by an illegal immigrant, Hillary Clinton told CNN that "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." 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."


Georgia banned "sanctuary cities" in 2009, and in 2016 went further by requiring local governments, in order to obtain state funding, to certify that they cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Arizona, through SB 1070 (enacted in 2010), requires law enforcement officers to notify federal immigration authorities "if they develop reasonable suspicion that a person they’ve detained or arrested is in the country illegally."

Tennessee state law bars "local governments or officials from making policies that stop local entities from complying with federal immigration law." In 2017, legislation proposed in the Tennessee General Assembly would go further, withholding funding from local governments deemed insufficiently cooperative with the federal government.

Texas does not have any cities that have adopted "sanctuary city" policies. Nevertheless, since 2014, bills seeking to deprive state grant funding from police departments and municipalities that do not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have introduced into the Texas Legislature several times. In February 2017, the Texas Senate passed (on a party-line vote) legislation that would require city, county, and college campus law enforcement "to hold an arrested person in custody while [ICE] looks into his or her immigration status" and deny state grant funding if they fail to do so. The legislation has the support of Republican Governor Greg Abbott.


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. Additionally, the legislation outlawed cities' bans against municipal workers reporting a person's immigration status to federal authorities.

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. This provision was implemented by local and state authorities in five states, California, Arizona, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina by the end of 2006. 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.

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.

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."

On January 25, 2017 President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the Secretary of Homeland Security and Attorney General to defund sanctuary jurisdictions that refuse to comply with federal immigration law. He also ordered the Department of Homeland Security to begin issuing weekly public reports that include "a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens." Ilya Somin, Professor of Law at George Mason University, has argued that Trump's withholding of federal funding would be unconstitutional: "Trump and future presidents could use [the executive order] to seriously undermine constitutional federalism by forcing dissenting cities and states to obey presidential dictates, even without authorization from Congress. The circumvention of Congress makes the order a threat to separation of powers, as well."


A study by Loren Collingwood of the University of California at Riverside and others found that sanctuary policy itself has no statistically meaningful effect on crime.

A study by Tom K. Wong, associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, published by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, determined: "Crime is statistically significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties. Moreover, economies are stronger in sanctuary counties – from higher median household income, less poverty, and less reliance on public assistance to higher labor force participation, higher employment-to-population ratios, and lower unemployment." The study also showed that sanctuary cities build trust between local law enforcement and the community, which enhances public safety overall. The study evaluated sanctuary and non-sanctuary cities while controlling for differences in population, the foreign-born percentage of the population, and the percentage of the population that is Latino."


  • In Alabama, state law (Alabama HB 56) was enacted in 2011, calling for proactive immigration enforcement; however, many provisions are either blocked by the federal courts or subject to ongoing lawsuits. On January 31, 2017, William A. Bell, the mayor of Birmingham, declared the city a "welcoming city" and said that the police would not be "an enforcement arm of the federal government" with respect to federal immigration law. He also stated that the city would not require proof of citizenship for granting business licenses. The Birmingham City Council subsequently passed a resolution supporting Birmingham being a "sanctuary city".
  • Arizona

  • Following the passage of Arizona 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." 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".
  • California

  • According to the National Immigration Law Center, about a dozen California cities have some formal sanctuary policy, and none of the 58 California counties "complies with detainer requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement."
  • Los Angeles – In 1979, the Los Angeles Police Department adopted Special Order 40, barring officers from initiating contact with a person solely to determine their immigration status. However, the city frequently cooperates with federal immigration officials. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti does not use the phrase "sanctuary city" to describe the city because the label is unclear.
  • San Francisco – "declared itself a sanctuary city in 1989, and city officials strengthened the stance in 2013 with its 'Due Process for All' ordinance. The law declared local authorities could not hold immigrants for immigration officials if they had no violent felonies on their records and did not currently face charges." The 2015 shooting of Kathryn Steinle provoked debate about San Francisco's "sanctuary city" policy.
  • In January 2017 a bill was proposed in the California State Legislature to make California a "sanctuary state."


  • Boulder
  • City attorneys for Denver, CO say that Denver does not “fit the bill” of a sanctuary city. Nonetheless, Denver does not enforce immigration laws on behalf of the federal government or honor federal “detainer” requests to hold jailed immigrants past their release dates.
  • Connecticut

  • Hartford passed an ordinance providing services to all residents regardless of their immigration in 2008. Said ordinance also prohibits that police from detaining individuals based solely on their immigration status or inquiring as to their immigration status. In 2016, the ordinance was amended to declare that Hartford is a "Sanctuary City", though the term itself does not have an independent legal meaning.
  • In 2013, Connecticut passed a law that gives local law enforcement officers discretion to carry out immigration detainer requests, though only for suspected felons.
  • Hartford, Connecticut became a sanctuary city in 2008.
  • On February 3, 2017, Middletown, CT declared itself a sanctuary city. This was in direct response to President Trump's executive order. Said Middletown's mayor, “We don't just take orders from the President of the United States”
  • Florida

  • In January 2017 Miami-Dade County rescinded a policy of insisting the U.S. government pay for detention of persons on a federal list. Republican Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered jails to "fully cooperate" with Presidential immigration policy. He said he did not want to risk losing a larger amount of federal financial aid for not complying. The mayor said Miami-Dade County has never considered itself to be a sanctuary city.
  • St. Petersburg Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman said residents from all backgrounds implored him to declare a sanctuary city. In February 2017 he blogged that, "I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws. We will not expend resources to help enforce such laws, nor will our police officers stop, question or arrest an individual solely on the basis that they may have unlawfully entered the United States." He said the county sheriff’s office has ultimate responsibility for notifying federal officials about people illegally in the city. The mayor criticized President Trump for "demonization of Muslims."
  • Georgia

  • The mayor of Atlanta, Georgia in January 2017 declared the city was a “welcoming city” and “will remain open and welcoming to all”. This statement was in response to President's Trump's executive orders related to “public safety agencies and the communities they serve”. Nonetheless, Atlanta does not consider itself to be a “sanctuary city”.
  • Illinois

  • Chicago became a "de jure" sanctuary city in 2012 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council passed the Welcoming City Ordinance. The ordinance protects residents' rights to access city services regardless of immigration status and states that Chicago police officers cannot arrest individuals on the basis of immigration status alone. The status was reaffirmed in 2016.
  • Urbana, Illinois
  • Evanston, Illinois
  • Louisiana

  • In New Orleans the New Orleans Police Department began a new policy to "no longer cooperate with federal immigration enforcement" beginning on Feb. 28, 2016.
  • Maine

  • A 2004 executive order prohibited state officials from inquiring about immigration status of individual seeking public assistance, but in 2011, the incoming Maine governor Paul LePage rescinded this, 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 based on the fact that “city employees are prohibited from asking about the immigration status of people seeking city services unless compelled by a court or law”, but Portland city officials did not accept that characterization.
  • Maryland

  • In 2008, Baltimore and Takoma Park are sometimes identified as sanctuary cities. However, "[m]ost local governments in Maryland – including Baltimore – still share information with the federal government." In 2016, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that she did not consider Baltimore to be a "sanctuary city."
  • Massachusetts

  • 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." Cambridge, Chelsea, Somerville, Orleans, Northampton, and Springfield have similar legislation. In August 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.
  • Michigan

  • 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." 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.
  • Minnesota

  • Minneapolis has an ordinance, adopted in 2003, 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." 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."
  • New York

  • Ithaca
  • New York City (see also illegal immigration to New York City)
  • Rochester
  • Syracuse
  • New Jersey

  • Jersey City
  • Maplewood
  • Ohio

  • Cincinnati's mayor declared the city a sanctuary city on 30 Jan 2017 in response to a federal executive order limiting immigration issued three days earlier.
  • Oregon

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Corvallis
  • Portland
  • Texas

  • Austin
  • Dallas
  • Houston – Harris County Sheriff vows to ignore Federal laws, ending his county’s participation in an ICE program known as 287(g).
  • Washington

  • Seattle
  • Canada

    Toronto was the first city in Canada to declare itself a sanctuary city, with Toronto City Council voting 37–3 on February 22, 2013 to adopt a formal policy allowing undocumented migrants to access city services. Hamilton, Ontario declared itself a sanctuary city in February 2014 after the Hamilton City Council voted unanimously to allow undocumented immigrants to access city-funded services such as shelters, housing and food banks. The city council of London, Ontario voted unanimously to declare London a sanctuary city in January 2017, with Montreal doing the same in February 2017 after a unanimous vote.

    While Vancouver is not a sanctuary city, it adopted an "Access to City Services without Fear" policy for residents that are undocumented or have an uncertain immigration status in April 2016. The policy does not apply to municipal services operated by individual boards, including services provided by the Vancouver Police Department, Vancouver Public Library, or Vancouver Park Board.

    As of February 2017, the cities of Ottawa, Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg are considering motions to declare themselves sanctuary cities.

    United Kingdom and Ireland

    In the United Kingdom and Ireland, sanctuary cities provide services – such as housing, education, and cultural integration – to asylum seekers (i.e. persons fleeing one country and seeking protection in another). 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.

    A cities status as a place of sanctuary is not necessarily a formal governmental designation. The organization City of Sanctuary encourages local grassroots groups throughout the UK and Ireland to build a culture of hospitality towards asylum seekers.

    Glasgow is a noted sanctuary city 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 seizures, 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.


    Sanctuary city Wikipedia