A sanctuary city is a term in the United States which has gained momentum in recent months because of policy changes to immigration enforcement. The federal government wants to work with local law enforcement in the communication, apprehension, or detaining of individuals who are in the country illegally. When a sanctuary city establishes itself under this status, then it restricts the interactions between national and local law enforcement.
The movement to create sanctuary cities actually began in the early 1980s as a way to resist perceived state injustices, challenging the government’s refusal to grant asylum to particular refuse groups. Over 275,000 people were killed in that decade in Guatemala and El Salvador by their governments as a way to suppress the movement of Communism, which caused many to flee to the U.S. for safety.
Eight churches publicly declared themselves to be sanctuaries in March of 1982, with one of the ministers writing publicly to the Attorney General at the time that they would violate the Immigration and Nationality Act by providing sanctuary to those from Central America on their property. In 1985, San Francisco because the first city of refuge, prohibiting the use of city funds to assist the federal government with immigration enforcement.
There are now more than 560 cities, counties, and states who consider themselves to be sanctuaries, so here are the major pros and cons of sanctuary cities to review.
List of the Significant Pros of Sanctuary Cities
1. It is a status which protects the undocumented contributor to the economy.
“Undocumented people are just like everyone else,” writes Jose Antonio Vargas, Chief Executive Officers and Founder of Define America, for the San Francisco Chronicle. “We want to work hard, support our families and pursue life, liberty, and happiness. When we are witnesses to actual crimes, such as domestic abuse or robbery, we want to be able to report it without fearing deportation.”
Undocumented immigrants are contributors to our society in many ways, including the taxes they pay on goods or services they use. They are often the victims of crime and exploitation because of their status since asking for help means there is exposure to their status. Sanctuary cities give them the options they need to support themselves, their families, and the rest of the country.
2. This status allows people to stay with their families in the United States.
As of September 2017, there were 689,800 active DACA recipients in the United States. DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that became available in 2012 to people who illegally entered the U.S. with their family at a young age. Started by the Obama Administration, it was a way to defer deportation proceedings because enrollment could serve as a work permit of sorts because there was a guarantee that they would not face deportation proceedings for two years.
With DACA effectively ending in 2017, the presence of sanctuary cities makes it possible for people to stay with their families. It won’t split up households where some might be American citizens and others are not.
3. It can make society safer, despite the presence of illegal immigration.
Unless there are the assurances of a sanctuary city policy in place, Vargas says that people without documentation are less likely to report any crime – much less one that happens to themselves or their family. When the population of a city is unwilling to alert law enforcement to what is happening, then it makes our communities less safe for everyone living there.
Instead of trying to round up people who might be in the country illegally, sanctuary cities allow their police officers to focus on crime prevention as the way that they can serve and protect. That means there can be a smaller burden on those in this situation, creating a stronger community in time.
4. It follows the tradition of having local communities having the power to make decisions.
The policies of a sanctuary city are a basic exercise in the essential local, county, and state powers which are provided to them by the federal government. Their job is to regulate the welfare, health, and safety of their residents. Some of the officials created a sanctuary city status because they had a moral objection to the idea of a mass deportation. Local leaders want all residents to feel safe when reporting a crime to police. There are some who believe that cooperation with the government could lead to racial profiling.
Even public schools and universities have concerns about how aggressive enforcement of immigration policies could jeopardize the safety of their students or interfere with the educational mission of the institution.
5. It works with the current laws for asking to receive asylum.
The United States only requests that someone file for asylum at some point in time. You can do that before you even leave your country, during your time traveling, or when you reach the border. The federal law which covers this area does not indicate that you must stay outside of the U.S. to go through this process. You can also file for this status after crossing the border without permission.
When push comes to shove, the only way to have a position of moral superiority is to treat people of any nationality with human dignity. There is a reason why immigration laws exist, but there must also be times when exceptions apply to ensure the safety of some individuals. Sanctuary cities provide a foundational resource that makes it possible for undocumented people to file whatever petitions are needed to improve their status over time.
6. It stops the round-up processes that come from the White House after 2016.
The Obama Administration used federal legislation to encourage local police departments to cooperate in the removal of undocumented felons. Sanctuary cities are forming rapidly after 2016 because they are responding to the rounding up of people who may have entered the country illegally, but not broken any other law since their time here.
“The undocumented population of LA County has deep roots in the community,” writes Seth Stodder, former Assistant Secretary for Border, Immigration, and Trade Policy at DHS. He told Politico that “rounding up thousands of these people would cause great social distress.” Trying to grab these people with a “just because” attitude would only serve to push them further underground.
7. It is a policy which encourages undocumented workers to contribute to the economy.
There are some undocumented immigrants who receive their salary without any record-keeping, which does not create employer or withholding taxes that benefit the government. It does mean that sales taxes are paid in the states and cities where one is authorized. The IRS estimates that up to $9 billion is withheld in payroll taxes every year because of the presence of illegal aliens in our country. Their contributions help to make the Social Security program have more solvency since they pay into the system without an opportunity to collect benefits.
The Bipartisan Policy Center notes that $12 billion more was collected from undocumented workers in 2010 than were paid out in benefits to undocumented workers.
List of the Significant Cons of Sanctuary Cities
1. It stops the removal of some undocumented immigrants.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the country. These jurisdictions caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic,” wrote President Donald Trump in an executive order made public on January 25, 2017.
It is true that a sanctuary city might block the removal of an undocumented immigrant using local resources. Cities, counties, and states tell the federal government that if they want to manage the case or the individual, then ICE or another agency with authority must come down to handle the situation. If the government cannot send a representative, then the person in question will not encounter deportation issues until one is available.
2. It can protect criminals who should be deported because of their conduct.
The preference of the U.S. government has always been to deport undocumented people who commit additional crimes after they cross the border. That means the emphasis is on the removal for other illegal acts instead of not having the appropriate visa paperwork or asylum application.
“Tens of thousands of removable aliens have been released into communities across the country, solely because their home countries refuse to accept their repatriation,” wrote President Trump in his EO. “Many of these aliens are criminals who have served time in our federal, state, and local jails.”
3. It does not show respect for the law.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that when someone breaks the law, then it is the duty of the government at each level to provide for the consequences of such an action. “Supporters say that sanctuary policies help to fight crime by encouraging illegal immigrants to report them without fear of deportation,” Sessions notes. “But how can we fight crime by allowing criminal aliens, whom the law requires to be deported, to stay in our country?”
“And how does it promote the rule of law when our citizens see their leaders disregard the law?” Sessions asks.
4. It is a violation of federal law.
When the first sanctuary cities began to form in the 1980s, the idea of police cooperation on the federal and state level to enforce immigration policy did not exist. It would not be until 1996 when a federal law was enacted to ensure the total cooperation between state, local, and federal agencies. This legislation requires authorities to share information regarding criminal illegal aliens in custody to federal immigration authorities without exception. Failing to do so creates another layer of disrespect for the law.
“We’ve seen the tragic results of sanctuary policies time and time again,” writes Dr. John Culberson for the San Francisco Chronicle. “Living in the United States is a privilege, and when you enter the country illegally and commit a crime, that privilege should be revoked.”
5. It does not come with an actual legal definition.
Sanctuary cities can declare that they will not work with federal officials when finding undocumented workers, but it is a decree which does not come with a real legal definition, according to Dennis Herrera, City Attorney for San Francisco. “There is no legal definition of a sanctuary city,” he writes, “but generally, it refers to a city or county that chooses to focus its resources on local priorities.”
Herrera goes on to say that public safety is the job of the local government, while immigration enforcement is the job of the federal government. Because everything with this status is governed through opinion more than precedent, there are hundreds of different definitions for this status around the country.
6. It can allow violent undocumented people to continue breaking the law.
Kathryn Steinle is often at the forefront of the debate on the pros and cons of sanctuary cities because of how her life ended. She was killed by an illegal immigrant who had already been deported five separate times. This individual had seven felony convictions at the time of the murder and was facing a deportation order. The status of a sanctuary city could potentially protect people who conduct themselves in such a way, which makes us less safe as a community instead of offering hope for a change.
As the National Review Editorial Board commented in 2017, “It is impossible to have a truly effective regime of interior enforcement if localities aren’t willing to cooperate with the federal government even when it comes to illegal immigrants who have been arrested for committing crimes.”
7. It places the welfare of the criminal over that of the citizen.
It doesn’t matter how, when, or why the status of a city, county, or state transitions to a sanctuary emphasis. These policies cause the law to focus more on how well the undocumented individuals are doing than the legal residents or citizens who call that place home. That means this policy could be reckless to the safety of residents, breaching the obligations that public officials have to protect and serve when taking office. The act of non-cooperation can encourage national security threats, promote higher levels of illegal immigration, and even waste taxpayer money while still placing the average person at a higher risk of danger.
8. It creates inconsistent national-level policies if states can choose a different path.
The state of Georgia has taken the step to ban any sanctuary city with legislation in 2010. They also started requiring local governments to certify that they cooperate with federal immigration officials to obtain funding from the state. Arizona requires law enforcement officers to notify immigration authorities if they suspect that a person they’ve arrested or detained is in the country illegally.
Although there might be hundreds of sanctuary cities and counties of varying size around the country, along with a handful of states, there are 33 states which have either enacted or introduced legislation that requires cooperation with ICE.
9. It may not have a statistical impact on crime.
A study published in Urban Affairs Review discovered that sanctuary cities do not have a statistically significant impact on crime. Another study in Justice Quarterly found that there was no impact on the murder rate in the city unless there was a significant Latino presence in the community. There is also a 2017 study that reviewed the existing literature on this subject that found sanctuary cities either have no impact on crime or they can lower the crime rate.
The reality of the sanctuary city designation is that there is no reliable data to support the potential advantages which many experts discuss. There is such a wide variety of laws, rules, or guidelines in place throughout the United States that the ability to find common ground is highly challenging.
Verdict on the Major Pros and Cons of Sanctuary Cities
There is a tradition of self-governing in the United States that should include the decision to designate oneself as being a sanctuary city, county, or state. The U.S. has open borders between states, which means households can choose to move if they disagree with the implementation of this status.
It is also essential to remember that federal legislation from 1996 requires the cooperation of local law enforcement when managing dangerous undocumented workers. The definition of “danger” here is someone who entered illegally and committed another crime.
The major pros and cons of sanctuary cities may never bring people on either side to a position of compromise, but it can help everyone to understand each position. That way, you can begin to determine how you feel about this subject.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.