Sanctuary Cities: Pro or Con?


Steve Rhodes/Creative Commons

A group protesting sanctuary cities demonstrates in front of city hall in San Francisco, Calif., on July 30, 2008. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Steve Rhodes

Emma Komar and Megan Munce

Pro by Emma Komar

Immigrants are without question one of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in our society. Often fleeing violence or economic instability in their own countries, many immigrants’ livelihoods have been damaged or severely altered through their entrances into a new country. But sanctuary cities offer a sense of hope and security to these people who have lost so much, and should not only be accepted, but celebrated.

A sanctuary city is defined as a city that limits its cooperation with the national government’s implementation of immigration enforcement policies. Ultimately, these cities attempt to provide safety and more moderate regulations to immigrants fearing deportation. With the rising fear of immigrants–especially brown ones–in America, these cities have become an increasingly controversial issue.

And while these cities do present potential issues, their positive aspects far outweigh their negative ones. For one thing, sanctuary cities provide not just safety from deportation, but the chance to be treated like a human being. With such a widely flawed immigration system, many immigrants fear speaking out for their human rights and drawing unwanted attention that could result in their removal from the country.

For example, women have started avoiding or dropping domestic abuse charges out of fear of deportation. Four Denver women specifically, according to, were unwilling to pursue their case because they feared being spotted in a courtroom to testify against their abusers and, in the process, get deported. Sanctuary cities give women the chance to focus on aspects of their lives outside of their immigration status, and actually encourage women to fight for themselves.

Now obviously, sanctuary cities cannot guarantee 100% safety from deportation, as xenophobic people in power will continue to work to immigrants’ detriment. But they can at least give immigrants a chance, which is already better than many of their previous circumstances.

Sanctuary cities also encourage positive relationships between the police and immigrants, and even contribute to the fight against unlawful discrimination. In a society with a necessity for a Black Lives Matter movement, improving relationships between cops and minorities could both save lives and promote peace.

According to Tom Manger, Chief of Police for Montgomery County and President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Cooperation is not forthcoming from persons who see their police as immigration agents. When immigrants come to view their local police and sheriffs with distrust because they fear deportation, it creates conditions that encourage criminals to prey upon victims and witnesses alike.” By promoting an environment that requires a mutual trust between immigrants and police forces, sanctuary cities can improve the toxic devaluation of minority lives in general.

Furthermore, because sanctuary cities allow for the implementation of more lenient laws, fewer immigrants will be imprisoned for undeserving crimes. Locking up immigrants simply for existing beyond their borders is arguably a human rights violation, according to the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and definitely a potential solution to overcrowding prisons. CNN reports show that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials submitted 1 million detainment requests between 2008-2012, with over 75% against immigrants with no criminal convictions on their records. And only 8.6% of those actually charged with crimes committed serious offences. Sanctuary cities offer the possibility of fewer deportation requests, which means that fewer people will be imprisoned solely for their immigration status. This opens cells for people who actually deserve them, like the 994 out of 1000 American rapists who are never incarcerated.

Many people argue that sanctuary cities show blatant favoritism for immigrants residing in more liberal states, which ultimately causes a “luck of the draw” situation that allows some immigrants more rights than others. But disregarding these cities as a whole in the name of fairness is counterintuitive: should we stop the fight to cure cancer because other diseases are less accounted for? Of course not–while sanctuary cities cannot solve every problem, and definitely have their downsides, they are perhaps the best we can do for immigrants given our current conservative administration. We shouldn’t write off the possibility of sanctuary cities before we can create an implementable and superior system.

Con by Megan Munce

Sanctuary cities have been long hailed as safe havens for the undocumented, allowing local law enforcement to choose not to inquire about legalization status when making arrests and to decline to report undocumented immigrants to ICE after they’ve been arrested for a crime.

Legally, the existence of sanctuary cities is justified through prosecutorial discretion: the idea that the priorities of some laws supercede the importance of others, allowing the president to choose which laws to be enforced or not.

For instance, local police who are equipped with the enforcement of the law may prioritize building community relations in order to effectively police the area over creating tension and reducing their ability to effectively work with the people in enforcing the law.

After all, undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities are much more willing to report crimes such as domestic abuse without the threat of deportation hanging over their heads.

However, there are a few key flaws with the way that sanctuary cities operate in our current legal system.

First, they’re misleading. Being in a sanctuary city causes undocumented immigrants to feel a false sense of safety that leads them to be less cautious about avoiding deportation and less motivated to become legalized when the harms of not doing so are minimized.

However, being in a “sanctuary city” doesn’t mean you’re completely safe from deportation. One report finds that in the last two-plus years, the Santa Fe police department  has reported suspected undocumented immigrants to ICE at least three times.

Furthermore, while sanctuary city status may hold local law enforcement to a policy of not reporting illegal immigrants to ICE after they’ve committed a crime, it does nothing to keep federal agents from raids on the suspected workplaces of illegal immigrants or communities believed to have high illegal alien populations.

Moreover, the impact of an influx of undocumented workers  in sanctuary cities causes harms to the legal residents and other legal immigrants who live in those cities. For instance, Montgomery County, Maryland, experienced a mass influx of both legal and illegal immigrants and at the same time saw their rate of impoverished people grow by almost three percent–40% of whom were immigrants.

However, lacking the proper resources to account for these changes, Montgomery County took hits to wages for public school teachers and firefighters and was also forced to increase property taxes and home sale taxes. With Trump threatening to cut off federal grant money to sanctuary cities, this problem only threatens to spread across the country, hurting immigrants both legal and illegal.

Finally, they incite xenophobia. While no conclusive research has found a positive correlation between sanctuary city status and high crime rate (in fact, many have concluded the opposite), the presence of sanctuary cities allows the sensationalization of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants that feeds into an rising tide of xenophobia.

With sanctuary cities, cherry picked examples of illegal immigrants who became

repeat offenders but weren’t reported after their initial crime—such as an undocumented immigrant with seven felony convictions that was let go in San Francisco, a sanctuary city, only to commit murder— are blown up to fit a bigoted image of the “dangerous illegal immigrant.”

When allowed to scapegoat blatant bigotry and racial profiling on the existence of sanctuary cities and the theoretical—and again, disproven—potential for increased violence, it feeds into a narrative that hurts both legalized and illegal immigrants across the country and leads to pervasive racial biases evident in our national rhetoric and policies.

After all, we were able to elect a president that campaigned on an immigration policy of “build a wall!” and got off more-or-less scot free despite calling Mexican immigrants rapists, criminals, and drug dealers.

The idea that we should shelter and give aid to those who wish to enter our country is not a bad one. However, sanctuary cities simply aren’t the public policy to pursue in order to achieve this goal.

Not only do they likely put undocumented immigrants at a greater risk by lulling them with a false sense of security, but it only serves to hurt residents legal or otherwise with increasing costs in the arena of social spending and the perpetualization of hateful xenophobic rhetoric.

Let’s pursue a policy that protects immigrants by encouraging legalization instead of incurring increasing costs and political backlash.