How Does A Sanctuary City Protect Undocumented Immigrants?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 07, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Sanctuary. What does that mean to you?

For many undocumented immigrants, sanctuary means being able to go to work or school or just the DMV without the constant fear of being reported to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported.

However, does living in a sanctuary city mean an undocumented immigrant will never be deported? How does a sanctuary city protect immigrants?

What Does It Mean to be a Sanctuary City?

There is no set legal definition of a sanctuary city. Generally, most sanctuary cities have policies that limit law enforcement and government employee assistance to the federal government on immigration matters. In many sanctuary cities, legislators implemented the policy hoping to build trust and cooperation between the immigrant community and local authorities to combat crime rates.

However, the most notorious sanctuary city right now is San Francisco where Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant who had been deported 5 times, allegedly randomly shot and killed Kate Steinle on Pier 14. Lopez-Sanchez was previously in ICE custody, but released to San Francisco Police to face drug charges. He was then released in April, when the charges against him were dropped.

In San Francisco, the City and County of Refuge ordinance prohibits city employees from actively participating in immigration enforcement efforts unless there is a court order or state law. This means San Francisco police refused to comply with an immigration detainer ICE filed, requesting local police notify ICE when Lopez-Sanchez is released from jail. Many critics of the sanctuary city policy are blaming the policy for Steinle's death.

Other Sanctuary Cities

Currently, there are about 200 sanctuary cities throughout the United States.

In Maine, an Executive Order issued by the Governor in 2004 discourages state employees from reporting the presence of undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.

In Utah, police are not allowed to ask about anyone's immigration status unless the person is arrested for a serious misdemeanor or felony.

Other sanctuary cities include Baltimore, Minneapolis, Reno, New York City, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, and Miami.

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