What is a sanctuary city?

The term “sanctuary city” often appears in the news, but most people don’t fully understand it. This term refers to a municipality that may limit its cooperation with the federal government’s efforts to enforce immigration law. The movement for sanctuary cities in the United States arose during the 1980s, when the federal government refused asylum to refugees arriving from politically unstable Central American countries.

List of sanctuary cities

  • Alexandria, VA
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Boston, MA
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbus, OH
  • Denver, CO
  • Detroit, MI
  • Hartford, CT
  • Iowa City, IA
  • Jackson, MS
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Memphis, TN
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Montpelier, VT
  • Newark, NJ
  • New Orleans, LA
  • New York City, NY
  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Portland, OR
  • Providence, RI
  • Raleigh, NC
  • San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, DC

How do sanctuary cities work?

Each city establishes its own laws and regulations. As a result, the specific details of how things work within each city vary. One thing sanctuaries have in common is that they limit resources provided to federal immigration officers attempting to apprehend undocumented immigrants.

Arrests of undocumented immigrants in non-sanctuary cities

In a non-sanctuary city, local law enforcement usually partners with federal agents. If the police arrest an undocumented immigrant, local law enforcement officers will typically hold the person until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can come to the jail and retrieve them.To do this, the law enforcement agency notifies ICE that they have an undocumented suspect in custody and request a detainer. If the detainer request is approved, the person will stay in jail.There are some limits to detainers. State or local laws may limit how long a person can be in custody. In this case, the police will hold the suspect for the maximum time, and if ICE fails to arrive, the person will be released.

Arrests of undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities

In these cities, undocumented immigrants are held as long as any other suspect. Law enforcement won’t usually contact ICE to tell them about an  undocumented immigrant in custody.The undocumented immigrant can leave detention if the charges are cleared or dropped. The person may also be released if they pay bail or complete a jail sentence.

Key takeaways for immigrants

Both immigrants living in sanctuary cities and those who advocate for them must stay informed about laws and regulations. Learn more about the sanctuary policies in your city or county to understand what protections are currently in place. Stay up-to-date on the latest news about immigration laws and sanctuary policies. One easy way to do this is to set up alerts through a news app or site like Google News. You can enable notifications or subscribe to emails with the latest stories related to keywords like “sanctuary city” and “immigration in CITY NAME.”