Sanctuary Cities

16 November 2019

What gives a city the right to offer sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants? Can local or state government ever be justified in defying the laws of the nation? These are some of the questions we’re asking in this week’s show, recorded live in front of an audience at San Francisco State University.

The issue of sanctuary cities is a thorny one because it is the federal government’s exclusive right to make and enforce immigration policy, which might lead you to think that once the feds have established a policy, then a city like San Francisco, or indeed the entire state of California, can’t just thumb its nose at that policy.

However if a federal policy is not a morally just policy—if it breaks up families, forces people into the shadows, and turns its back on desperate people seeking refuge—does that give states and local municipalities the right to ignore the policy?

Some worry that sanctuary policies are not the right approach to fix a broken immigration system because they cause bitter divides in an already polarized political landscape. And they can be exploited and distorted by dangerous demagogues who use these policies as a wedge issue.

That may be the case, but it doesn’t address the question of whether or not sanctuary policies make our cities more just, which is the real issue. As people, immigrants should be treated humanely, so it’s a matter of respecting the human rights of others and making sure these rights are recognized in practice, not just in theory. But it’s also about making our cities safer for everyone. Sanctuary policies do that by putting less strain on local budgets, encouraging undocumented people to come forward and report crimes, and by allowing them safe access to education and healthcare. It’s in nobody’s interest to live in cities filled with sick, uneducated migrants cowering in the shadows for fear of deportation.

I’m not claiming sanctuary policies are a panacea for all our immigration woes. If we had more humane, just, and effective national policies in the first place, we might not need them. But that is not the world we live in right now, so we need to maintain our sanctuary policies.

There is a worry that by openly flouting federal law, we set a bad precedent that makes way for states or municipalities to take other kinds of action, like making access to abortion and reproductive healthcare illegal, despite the fact that federal law protects that right. If local municipalities can just decide to ignore federal laws they disagree with, then shouldn't we worry about that? Aren't states that try to provide sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants in the same boat as states that try to outlaw abortion

The assumption here is that sanctuary cities are flouting federal law, but with some notable exceptions, that’s not usually what is going on. Mostly, they’re simply refusing to be deputized by the federal government. They are not actively undermining the rule of law, rather they are refusing to cooperate with it, which is a different thing. If the feds want to round up and deport undocumented individuals, they’re free to do so. Sanctuary policies just mean they can’t expect any assistance from local authorities. That's different from states that try to outlaw abortion because they are actively denying women the right to healthcare that is guaranteed by federal law. They are not merely refusing to cooperate with the federal government's own enforcement.

But what if ordinary citizens took that same attitude and refused to cooperate with law enforcement and refused to report crimes they've witnessed? Wouldn’t that make them complicit in the spread of crime? How is it any different with sanctuary cities?

There are already many ordinary citizens in this country—people of color, poor or homeless people, LGBTQ people—who have legitimate fear of law enforcement and will not report crimes because of histories of violence at the hands of the authorities. If we want people to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement, then we have to make it safe for them to do so. Certainly, blaming vulnerable people who fear for their lives for their lack of cooperation is not the solution. We need to address the underlying causes, not attack the symptoms.

Advocates for sanctuary policies are not to blame if immigrants don’t want to cooperate with law enforcement. That’s a result of misguided and harmful federal policies. If we genuinely want safer cities, then they have to be safe for everyone. When unauthorized immigrants fear they will be deported if they come forward as a witness to a crime, we all lose.


Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

Comments (7)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, November 16, 2019 -- 11:47 AM

On the earlier post regarding

On the earlier post regarding this issue/topic, I remarked that I was unsure as to the efficacy of the whole idea (and application) of 'sanctuary' cities, also stating that there might be a better idea---which I did not offer---yet. Sanctuary does not capture the 'whole truth' of what these cities offer, seems to me. There is a lady in my town who has been sheltered, for a period of time, by a local church. While the authorities have kept hands off, so far, she has little freedom and only the support and good wishes of much of the community-at-large. While she has not been taken into custody by ICE or anyone else, she cannot go anywhere other than within the four walls which confine her. This points up an idea which, though not exclusively mine, demonstrates at least part of this dilemma. I have framed my soliloquy as follows:


If the notion of sanctuary cities were to be somehow codified as law uniformly throughout the land, it would at least 'have some teeth'. As things stand, though, it is lip service, carrying only the shield of ethical behavior as its defense. Even so, this is a situational ethic, and as such it lacks everything it ought to demonstrate, save good intentions. There are numerous organizations who try to do good for the common folk. So, IF---and that is a big 'if'---sanctuary cities are to be the wave of equity towards those who need such, there would need to be some groundswell of will to enact (cringe) legislation. Perhaps someone has thought of this already. Perhaps there are efforts being made to make it so. I have not heard of any such movement. Experience shows you cannot make someone do something he/she does not wish to do, unless you make it a matter of law. This is the-more-so true when we are discussing lawmakers themselves. I have no personal stake; no dog in this hunt. Friends of mine who were impacted unfairly by this issue returned to their home country. They are happy enough there, do not suffer deprivations, nor do they worry about oppressive treatment by their government. Not yet, anyway... These well-educated folks wanted to become American citizens. Unfortunately, America did not want them badly enough to help 'make it so'. The jury is still out on this matter, so-to-speak.

msseelam's picture


Sunday, November 17, 2019 -- 10:34 AM

How about sanctuary for the

How about sanctuary for the residents who live & work here already? I have a radical idea. In that it's radically simple but would take political will to implement. So, you are aware of the Mayor's Office of Housing and the BMR (Below Market Rate) program I am sure. At least it's a program that exists in San Francisco, where I live. However, people have to run through a gauntlet of qualifying events to land a home through the BMR program to purchase.
So just imagine, if you had to apply that same principle to rentals. We have tens of thousands of rentals that are frozen into 'rent controlled' units for 'legacy' tenants. There are hundreds of these 'legacy' tenants who are well able to afford to pay market rate rents. Why are these well heeled people squatting in homes, refusing to budge, and keeping them from being made available to those who earn less?
For example, I personally know at least two dozen people who are fairly well off and who are paying, in some instances, $1000 or less for a two bed two bath home in San Francisco. You'd pay more than that in rent in Stockton! I mean, these are not people who are hurting for cash, they can well afford to pay the $4000/month that unit should or would cost at market rate. Why can't those rents be frozen in place and made available to folks who really need it? Why are we pandering to this greed? There are also instances of people living in a 'rent controlled' unit in SF and then either renting or owning units in Berkeley/Oakland/Palo Alto.. It's runaway robbery that can be stemmed.
If all renters who are living in these legacy units were required to prove their need worthiness to be living in those units, just like you would have to if you wanted to purchase a BMR unit.. you would free up hundreds of units and make them available for the less deep pocketed amongst us. It is outright greed that is letting people sit unmoved in digs that should rightfully be occupied by people who are genuinely in need.

I am a retired substitute teacher with SFUSD. I had colleagues who would drive into work all the way from Vallejo, Sacramento, as they were pushed out of housing in SF. Why can't those units be made available to those like them?

I mean, this is an addressable problem, if we only had the will. If my plan seems unclear, please let me know and I will try to explain myself further.
Many thanks,
Sadhana Seelam

RepoMan05's picture


Sunday, November 17, 2019 -- 4:52 PM

Being that organized crime is

Being that organized crime is, well, organized, you can't justify your claims about crime rates. Take Madison Wisconsin as an example. You can say it has a very low crime rate all you want but you're likely unaware that it's high schools see more heroin overdose deaths than a city its size ever should. I've personally met the people behind it. It started with mafia leaving Chicago. Capone family, literally. No joke. After that, I've also personally met Mexican mafia outlets there. I've even met tebetian drug smugglers there. Done lines with all these people I'm mentioning, mind you. The Mexican mafia guy was the worst. You could get anything you wanted from that guy. And the story gets worse as u bring it back to that point about fallacious data. The Sherif department there fking loves cocaine. Lsd, heroin shrooms, meth, pcp, oh oh and hookers. Lots of them. They have one of the best brothels in the nation. Met a couple dozen rock stars, movie stars, comedians etc there. Trust me, you don't know sht. When you finish the wall, put computer guided laser turrets on top. It's literally a goddamned war you're not fighting but losing everyday in every classroom. All the hookers I grew up with said their teachers were their best customers.

MJA's picture


Monday, November 18, 2019 -- 7:05 AM

No matter the regulations, be

No matter the regulations, be they federal, state, or local, helping another in need is inherently good, a defining character of humane(ity).

The only problem I see in the right or wrong of sanctuary cities is that governments believe they have the right to regulate what is our inherent right, to FREELY help those in need if we decide to do so or not.

Regulating help for those in need, be it for or against such help or need, can only be regulated by ones own free will, Any infringement to govern our inalienable right to help others would lead to a dissolution of humane. Imagine a world where we can only help another, be it a fellow human, an animal, a forest, river, ocean planet or tree, if we are governed to do so or not to do so, well I would be throwing in the towel today.

There would be no need for a heart!

Governments have no right to decide who to help and who we don't. But each and everyone of us does have the right to decide on our own, nothing more, nothing less.


RepoMan05's picture


Monday, November 18, 2019 -- 7:32 PM

When you facilitate

When you facilitate irresponsibility you create a life style that's subject to exploitation.

Catholicism is intentionally irresponsible in regards to procreation for the purpose of adding bastards to the folds of their army's. It's the way there been since Rome. They opposed contraceptives, they oppose abortion, they oppose tampons even. They do a lot to conceal their irresponsibility by claiming superiority on the topic while they stab you in the back before you can remedy anything in the smallest ways. Their nations are hopelessly overpopulated cesspools complete with heinously corrupt overseers based around nepotism and racism.

How can you call upon others to facilitate that kind of thing either by direct funding or by legalising supportive ponzi scams?

After that, when help is so racistly/religious-selectivly distributed and otherwise exploited in an already bloated Enron budget, how can you expect responsible people to overlook what's going on?

More people equal more seats, municipalities, counties, and states all benefit like a neo-Tammany hall marked by unchecked corruption. Meanwhile, they ask everyone else to pay for the consequences of inviting a Catholic pederast heroin cartel entrenched in a 200year invasion plan.

RepoMan05's picture


Monday, November 18, 2019 -- 7:34 PM

In short, because of habitual

In short, because of habitual exploitation.

RepoMan05's picture


Monday, November 18, 2019 -- 7:52 PM

Even shorter Surrender!

Even shorter