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3 Important Facts About Sanctuary Cities for Immigrants and Opponents

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Undocumented immigrants beware: sanctuary cities are not all they are reported to be, and a certain elected official wants to do away with them. For undocumented immigrants that live in sanctuary cities, the next presidential term will require staying aware of whether Donald Trump follows through on the threatened consequences for cities and counties that continue to provide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Many cities have vowed to protect their populations, but what does that even mean?

The reason many people have a problem with there being sanctuary cities across the country is the incorrect belief that the cities provide a safe haven for criminals. In reality, in a sanctuary city, an undocumented immigrant will be pursued for any criminal act(s) they commit, except for merely being undocumented. Sanctuary cities generally only promise or have a policy not to follow orders from the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency regarding holding individuals without other criminal charges for deportation.

1. Sanctuary Cities Cannot Fully Protect Immigrants

Sanctuary cities aren't really sanctuaries. It's not like once an undocumented immigrant makes it to San Francisco, or another sanctuary city, they are free from the fear of deportation. Federal immigration officers can enforce federal immigration laws across the country, even in sanctuary cities.

Generally, sanctuary cities simply refuse to commit city resources to assisting federal immigration enforcement, which is responsible for enforcing immigration laws and processing deportations. In reality, the way this works is that after an undocumented immigrant that has been arrested is cleared of the crime, a sanctuary city will refuse to hold the person for an ICE deportation action.

The primary difference is that in a sanctuary city, an undocumented immigrant doesn't have to worry about getting arrested and deported when they get a speeding ticket, or are the victim of a crime.

2. Not All Sanctuary Cities Are Equal

There is no official or legal definition of a sanctuary city. The lengths to which a city offers sanctuary or protection from federal immigration enforcement will vary depending on each city's policies. Some cities don't cooperate at all, while some cities only refuse to cooperate for undocumented aliens without criminal records.

3. Sanctuary Cities Still Enforce the Law Against Immigrants

A city that offers sanctuary still enforces criminal laws against individuals seeking sanctuary from federal immigration enforcement. Undocumented immigrants don't get to go on a crime-spree in sanctuary cities. Regular criminal justice applies to everyone in sanctuary cities.

Sanctuary policies allow undocumented immigrants in some locales to get ID cards, pay city fees, taxes, and contribute to society, without fear that their contributions will lead to deportation. Generally, sanctuary cities simply refuse to cooperate with federal agencies attempting to deport immigrants because they have too much else to be concerned with and undocumented immigrants don't actually pose the extreme threat that is often imagined.

However, the federal government does have the right to enforce federal immigration law without help from state or local law enforcement.

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