A sanctuary city is a term that refers to municipal jurisdictions, typically in North America, that have laws, ordinances, or other regulations that obstruct immigration enforcement and people from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These cities refuse to or prohibit agencies from complying with ICE detainers, deny ICE access to interview incarcerated aliens or other methods to prevent ICE personnel from carrying out their duties.
Sanctuary cities in Europe have a slightly different meaning than those in North America. In Europe, sanctuary cities refer to cities that are considered safe havens for refugees, asylum seekers, and others seeking safety from other countries or regions. The European sanctuary cities are focused on connecting and understanding with those who come to them by raising awareness and forming cultural connections through sports, the arts, education, faith, and other sectors. Glasgow and Sheffield in the United Kingdom have become notable sanctuary cities in Europe.
Sanctuary cities have existed for thousands of years, associated with Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions. The history of sanctuary cities dates back to the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament, where six cities were designated as cities of refuge for perpetrators of accidental manslaughter.
In the United States, sanctuary cities started in the 1980s with a movement led by faith-based groups that challenged the U.S. government’s refusal to grant asylum to Central American refugees. Eight churches in the southwest United States publicly declared to be sanctuaries in March 1982.
In 1989 San Francisco passed its “City and County of Refuge” resolution, which was then followed by an ordinance prohibiting the use of city resources to assist federal immigration enforcement. These actions taken by the city of San Francisco are considered significant milestones in the U.S. sanctuary city movement.
As of 2018, there are more than 560 cities, counties, and states that are considered to be sanctuaries in the United States.
Five well-known sanctuary cities are:
Chicago’s history as a sanctuary city began in 1982 when 20 churches declared themselves as safe havens for those fleeing from El Salvador and Guatemala. In 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed the Welcoming City ordinance, which aimed at making Chicago the “most immigrant-friendly city in the country.”
San Francisco established itself as a sanctuary city in 1989 with the passing of its City of Refuge resolution. Additionally, in 2013, San Francisco passed the “Due Process for All,” prohibiting cooperation with ICE detainer requests and limiting when law enforcement can inform ICE officials of when undocumented persons are released from jail. The reason for San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinances is to promote trust and cooperation between residents and local authorities and so anyone can call emergency services, regardless of status.
Washington D.C., the nation’s capital, is estimated to have about 70,000 immigrants, 25,000 of whom are undocumented. Former Mayor Marion Barry declared D.C. to be a sanctuary city in 1984, and former Mayor Vincent Gray signed a law in 2011 that prohibits officials from questioning a resident’s immigration status during arrests or other operations. Current Mayor Muriel Bowser created the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant program, providing funding to targeted services and resources to the D.C. immigrant population, including those facing deportation or hearings.
New York City has had a near-constant influx of immigrants through Ellis Island for decades and is known as the gateway to America. There are about 500,000 undocumented residents in New York City. New York City offers several programs to immigrants, such as the municipal identification programs, which allows residents, regardless of status, to attain identification so that they may have access to various social programs and open bank accounts.
San Jose has long implemented policies that prohibit officials from reporting undocumented residents. San Jose was the first city to sue the federal government over the decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Santa Clara County, where San Jose is located, has also set up a 24-hour “Rapid Response Network” hotline, which allows people to report ICE raids in progress.
A full list of sanctuary cities, counties, and states as of April 2019 can be found here.