Cities Journal

The 101 On Sanctuary Cities


During a congressional hearing yesterday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that she and her team will do everything in their power to crack down on Sanctuary Cities in the country. They will prevent them from getting federal grant money and make sure that illegal immigrants who are released by the federal Bureau of Prisons are automatically turned over to immigration authorities instead to such cities.

This announcement, presumably instigated by the killing of Kathryn Steinle  in San Franscisco, still came as quite a surprise, especially considering how pro-immigrant Obama’s administration has been so far. The announcement also once again raised the issue of sanctuary cities and their position in the country.

In order to help our readers form their own opinion, we have decided to write about what sanctuary cities are and which U.S. cities are considered to be among them.

The first thing you should know is that the concept of the sanctuary city is not legally defined. In fact, one might say that such a thing does not actually exist in legal terms. In any case, it is definitely not a designation that certain cities were awarded by any organization or government body. The term sanctuary city, instead, denotes any American city whose city-level administration and government do not exactly cooperate with the federal government on the issues concerning immigration.

It is believed that the first sanctuary city was actually Los Angeles, where a policy was initiated back in 1979 that would prevent police from asking the people they arrest about their immigration status. The order was called Special Order 40 and despite seeming absolutely ludicrous from pretty much every standpoint, in reality, the reasons for such an order being implemented in a city like LA were quite logical.

Namely, as the word of this order got round and as LAPD stopped inquiring about the immigration status of the arrestees, they started getting much more cooperation from individuals whose immigration status was, let’s say, muddled. The City also believed this would inspire people to report crimes even if they were in the country illegally, which would lead to more arrests and incarceration of very dangerous individuals that would otherwise be difficult to even identify, let alone arrest.

Los Angeles was followed by a number of major cities in the country; some of which adopted the same stance towards cooperation with federal immigration authorities for the same reasons LA did and some because they were liberal cities where the voters had much laxer vies on immigration than those adopted by the federal government.


Some of the cities that became sanctuary cities to a certain extent include Washington, D.C., New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, San Diego, Oakland, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Houston, Detroit, Denver, Miami, Baltimore, Portland (both Oregon and Maine) and Seattle. The number of local and state jurisdictions that have their own way of cooperating with federal immigration authorities is actually over 200 in all. You can find an updated map here.

The way different cities have approached this varies from case to case, but in the majority of cities, certain laws and policies have been passed which limit the extent to which local law enforcement will work to assist the federal immigration authorities.

The main proponents for sanctuary cities are police groups that work in such cities and which say that such arrangements help local communities unite in their fight against the crime as people feel safer coming forward. Ross Mirkarimi, San Francisco Sheriff stated it very clearly:

“I firmly believe it makes us safer. We’re a world-renowned city with a large immigrant population. … From a law enforcement perspective, we want to build trust with that population.”

It goes without saying that the parties which have the most problem with sanctuary cities are federal immigration agencies such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE for short). They claim that removing illegal aliens from the United States should be a priority and that this would lead to better protection of U.S. citizens.

Certain political parties and figures, mostly from the conservative end of the spectrum, have also showed their support towards cracking down on sanctuary cities, mostly as part of their anti-immigration stance.

One thing is for sure – after this announcement from Ms. Lynch, sanctuary cities are bound to become one of the burning political issues in the United States. Once again.

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