Published May 23, 2017


Since the election of President Trump, the term “sanctuary city” has had a conspicuous presence in our national conversation on immigration.  President Trump’s executive orders and rhetoric about building a wall and amping up immigration enforcement are the main reasons the topic has become all the more interesting, especially for our nation’s undocumented population.   

Firstly, what is a sanctuary city?   It is a local government entity that decided as a matter of policy it will play no role whatsoever when it comes to the enforcement of our federal immigration laws.   That means a sanctuary city’s local officials, including the police, will not contact federal immigration authorities to report undocumented immigrants they encounter.   Sanctuary city officials will not cooperate with immigration authorities’ requests to detain and transfer certain undocumented immigrants after they have been arrested or prosecuted for a criminal law violation (side note: with few exceptions, immigration law violations are not criminal in nature).  Sanctuary city officials will not engage in random immigration status verification of individuals present in their jurisdiction. 


Despite the image the name conjures up, a sanctuary city does not shield its inhabitants from immigration law enforcement or prevent immigration authorities from carrying out enforcement actions within its jurisdiction.    Sanctuary cities are not saying immigration laws should not be enforced, or that immigration laws are not important.  No, it’s just that these localities take a “hands off” approach and let immigration authorities do their job on their own, and without special support or assistance from local government law enforcement officials. Sanctuary cities seek to spend their resources on enforcing criminal laws, and addressing local needs and initiatives and not toward a federal immigration enforcement purpose. 


A sanctuary city’s decision to adopt such a policy is based on the reality that our undocumented population is here to stay, absent a national deportation initiative.  By and large, these individuals are productive, otherwise law abiding, members of society, working hard and paying taxes.   As such, undocumented individuals may themselves become victims or witnesses to crimes.  Without fear that they will be deported, such undocumented individuals will more readily report crimes and participate as witnesses to criminal prosecutions, in turn making these cities safer.  Further, undocumented individuals will likely take better measures to educate their children and make sure they attend schools, as opposed to fearing educational institutions because of their immigration status.    In all, sanctuary cities decide to take on such a policy because they view the benefits as heavily outweighing whatever negative factors may be at play.

Back to President Trump:   In the first weeks of his presidency, President Trump announced the implementation of executive orders threatening to withhold crucial federal funding from sanctuary cities.    A flurry of lawsuits have been filed by several large and medium sized sanctuary cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, challenging the legality of this executive order.   Up to this point, the courts have mainly ruled in favor of the plaintiff cities, finding that the executive order violates several provisions of the U.S. constitution, including the separation of powers doctrine.



PUBLISHED May 23, 2017– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2017, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois