What Exactly Is A Sanctuary City?

Sanctuary cities and immigration are currently at the forefront of national conversation in 2017. New policies released by the Trump Administration have sought to support immigration enforcement and punish any local governments that refuse to comply with federal authorities. Although these orders have been largely halted by the courts, understanding what a sanctuary city is and how you or someone you love can benefit from their protections remains an important aspect of being an immigrant living in America. So what is a sanctuary city? What does it mean to be someone living within these more protective jurisdictions? Below we discuss the main things to know about sanctuary cities. What are they? “Sanctuary city” is a political term that describes a city, county, or state, that limits its cooperation with the national government to enforce immigration law. Leaders of these cities seek to reduce fear amongst their immigrant populations that they will be deported or that their families will be broken up. This is largely due to the idea that doing so will foster a trusting environment, whereby people who are in this country without valid documentation will be more willing to cooperate with police and report crimes, use health and social services, and enroll their children in school. Generally, cities may be declared sanctuary cities without a precise legal definition or declaration. They may formally implement sanctuary laws but it is not required. What function do they serve? Policies within sanctuary cities generally prohibit their local police or city employees from questioning people about their immigration status. It also allows them to refuse requests by federal immigration authorities to detain illegal immigrants in jail. Generally, when someone is arrested and identified as an illegal immigrant, they must serve jail time or pay fines for any state charges. After that, they are usually let go. Most cities have some sort of guidelines that determine when federal immigration authorities must be alerted before the person is released. Often, this involves any history of prior arrests or convictions. In a sanctuary city, however, the authorities generally don’t have any such policies or if they do, don’t follow them. Where are they? Berkeley, California was the first city government in the United States to implement official sanctuary immigration policies back in 1971. Many other local governments in cities around the US followed suit, with as many as 300 localities deemed as sanctuary cities today. In California there are about a dozen cities with a formal sanctuary policies today, including San Francisco, and it is notable that none of the counties within California comply with requests to detain immigrants by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. California also has state laws that make it very difficult for jails to turn over illegal immigrants to federal officials. What are the penalties? Currently, it is not clear if sanctuary jurisdictions can or will face any concrete sanctions or penalties for their sanctuary policies. Generally, federal law is the supreme law of the land. This means that any state law on a subject matter that is in direct conflict with federal law is precluded by the federal law. Therefore, it would follow that federal immigration policy should trump local policies regarding immigration law. However, just because such federal immigration laws exist does not mean that the states are required to actually help the government enforce them, or any other, federal laws. In fact, it is not legally clear that it is even constitutional to require states to use their resources to enforce federal laws. Recently, the Trump Administration has threatened to withhold federal money from cities, counties, and even states, that it considers sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. However, they have so far been unable to conclusively determine what exactly would qualify these localities as sanctuary cities and what acts would subject them to such a penalty. Immigration policy in the United States is often confusing and complicated, with even those who did enter illegally or overstayed their visas having some legitimate claim to remain in the country. On top of this, there are hundreds of thousands of people awaiting immigration hearings whose wait times now reach into 2019. Landerholm Immigration concentrates specifically on deportation defense, and we work to get positive results for our clients. If you or a loved one is facing an immigration problem, our experienced immigration lawyers may be able to help. Contact us today at (510) 491-0291.

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