Sanctuary Cities and Immigration

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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What is a Sanctuary City? 

The term sanctuary city is a generalization used to describe the cities that do not use city funding to implement federal immigration laws. These cities have decided by legal regulation, internal memo or force of habit not to inquire about the immigration status of persons with whom they come into contact. Cities across the United States have adopted sanctuary policies; some sanctuary policies are even implemented statewide.

Does That Mean an Illegal Immigrant Cannot be Deported From a Sanctuary City?

No, while local law enforcement may choose not to inquire about the immigration status of individuals, such ordinances cannot ban the federal government from enforcing immigration law within the jurisdiction.

Do Sanctuary Cities Benefit or Harm the Community?

This is a question that is still under debate.

Those that oppose sanctuary cities say that by actively declining to inform federal authorities of the illegal status of an immigrant, they are helping them escape lawful deportation and endangering the community. The opposition points to news stories in which members of the community are murdered or assaulted by illegal aliens who had already been arrested by local police for other crimes, but not reported to Federal immigration officials. In fact there are several lawsuits currently in progress in which families of murder victims killed by illegal immigrants are suing the cities which failed to report those illegal immigrants to federal authorities due to their sanctuary policies.

Those that support immigration sanctuary cities say that having a “don’t ask, don’t report” type of policy actually helps to curb crime. They say that within certain communities, which are heavily populated by immigrants, people are more likely to come to police officials to report crimes or act as witnesses if they know that the city won’t ask about immigration status. Without these policies, people would fear coming forward if not for their own sake then for the sake of family members or friends who are in the U.S. illegally.

So, are Sanctuary Cities Illegal?

That is a difficult question. Technically, immigration policy and enforcement is the domain of the federal government. State and local government employees can be trained and authorized to act on immigration issues but these lower governments are not currently required to participate in the federal training programs.

Cities and States aren’t obligated to use their own resources to help enforce Federal immigration laws. Sanctuary cities are just places that have standardized that decision to put those resources elsewhere.

Do I Need an Immigration Attorney?

If you have been arrested and are facing removal / deportation in a sanctuary city, you should speak with an immigration attorney immediately.

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Last Modified: 03-15-2012 10:05 AM PDT

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