A frequent and controversial theme during the campaign, Donald Trump’s quest to overhaul the country’s immigration policies, is already in motion following a rash of executive order signings, including one that authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to begin releasing a list of crimes committed by immigrants. This, it seems, is an effort to monitor this crop of the population, which could be the first stepping stone for his desire to weed out illegal immigrants.
And let’s not forget his pledge to build that infamous wall (not fence) to slow or stop the tide of immigrants sneaking across the U.S./Mexico border. Details surrounding these plans have been ever changing, especially with the drama between him and Mexican President Enrique Nieto, but for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., it could mean their lives will be uprooted. But some areas of the country, which are called sanctuary cities, may push back against Trump’s mass deportation plans and offer a helping hand to fearful immigrants and their children.
Sanctuary cities may sound like immigrant havens, but the term can have varying interpretations. In essence, a sanctuary city protects immigrants from deportation by limiting its cooperation with federal immigration authorities, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
How Do Sanctuary Cities Help Immigrants?
Currently, 39 cities and 364 counties in the U.S. take up sanctuary status, with some even offering legal assistance if inhabitants are summoned to a deportation hearing. This provides a welcoming humanitarian effort for undocumented immigrants and gives them a fighting chance if they find themselves in distress.
There is no standard legal definition or set of requirements that exist for sanctuary cities, and some only observe the laws in practice. These cities aren’t necessarily thumbing their noses at the federal government, but rather, most sanctuary cities hope that their status benefits undocumented immigrants in the sense that they don’t fear deportation for seeking healthcare, sending their children to school, or even reporting crimes.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi told CNN that he believes a sanctuary city creates a cohesive atmosphere where the law officials respect the citizens and vice versa: “I firmly believe it makes us safer; we’re a world-renowned city with a large immigrant population,” he said. “From a law enforcement perspective, we want to build trust with that population.”
Existing data may highlight Ross’ point. Mother Jones dug into a study from the Center for Immigration Studies and FBI Uniform Crime Report, which found that San Francisco had only 5.75 murders per 100,000 residents in 2013 (as opposed to a non-sanctuary city like Indianapolis which had 15.17 murder per that rate). And sanctuary cities can provide other benefits for the undocumented immigrants who live there. A study from the Harvard Public Health Review found that sanctuary cities have the potential to “bridge a widening gap in health outcomes between undocumented individuals and their native-born or authorized counterparts.”
While sanctuary cities can be fruitful for immigrants and provide them with a sense of relief from deportation threats, some activists — like National Day Laborer Organizing Network organizer Alexis Teodoro — worry that sanctuary cities have already become less than their promise and do not offer “law-abiding policies.” He specifically mentioned how the Los Angeles Police Department announced they would honor sanctuary policies, but that they have worked with ICE on removal operations. Teodoro said this could be misleading:
“The devil is in the details. City sanctuary resolutions are just simple statements. What cities need is a local, law-binding [resolution] with accountability measures in place. Such measures,” he said, “should hold police responsible if they go against sanctuary city policies and help to shield city agencies hoping to better protect vulnerable, undocumented community members.”