DemDaily: What is a Sanctuary City?

March 28, 2017

The Trump administration announced its latest attack on immigrants yesterday, underscoring its intention to withhold federal funding from local governments which declare themselves "sanctuary cities."

A "sanctuary city" is a widely used term for US cities that permit, or welcome, undocumented immigrants as residents, and openly provide sanctuary from deportation.

Over 600 local municipal governments have adopted, or are proposing, policies that set limits on assistance to federal immigration enforcement officers, and prohibit police or city employees from questioning people about their immigration status. (see full list)

The administration contends that these city and county jurisdictions are violating federal law by not cooperating fully with US Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE).


Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking from the White House Briefing room Monday, announced, in the interest of "making American cities safe," a commitment to enforcing President Trump's January 25th Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.

A January 26th report by the Center for American Progress, however, contradicts the DOJ's "safety" concerns. The research (by Tom K. Wong, UC San Diego) compared sanctuary and non-sanctuary counties and found, on the average:

  • 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties
  • Median household annual income is $4,353 higher in sanctuary counties
  • The poverty rate is 2.3% lower in sanctuary counties
  • Unemployment is 1.1% lower in sanctuary counties
  • While the results hold true across sanctuary jurisdictions, the sanctuary counties with the smallest populations see the most pronounced effects

    Protesters in Austin, Texas

The Legal Challenge
As with many of the administration's directives, this one is on questionable legal ground and is being contested in courts nationwide, contending:

  • The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from forcing or coercing states to assist in federal immigration enforcement.
  • The Supreme Court ruled (South Dakota v. Dole, 1987, held 7-2) that the government can only impose conditions on federal funds if those conditions are related to the underlying purpose of the funded program. This means the administration would have to make the case that immigration enforcement is sufficiently related to community or economic development funding.
  • The Supreme Court also ruled (National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 2012, held 5-4) that the threat to withhold funding cannot be so significant that it effectively compels compliance.

"Local law enforcement know their communities best and the Trump administration is trying to undermine their role by threatening to take away critical funds that make our communities safe and keep criminals off the streets. This administration not only is trying to bully law enforcement and make them ICE agents, but they're trying to bully immigrant families. This is not who we are as a country. We are a country that must protect families from being torn apart, go after criminals to keep our communities safe, and support our local law enforcement. Today's actions do none of that." -- DNC Chair Tom Perez

DemList will keep you posted on all developments.

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