Policy dealing with sanctuary jurisdictions is particularly contentious because no bipartisan solution exists that strikes a balance between the federal government’s interest in robust immigration enforcement—and engaging with local law enforcement to honor detainer requests—and the pushback from jurisdictions aiming to protect the rights of all individuals and their own economic interests. 

Designation as a “sanctuary jurisdiction” means that local officials and law enforcement will not fully cooperate with federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. Non-cooperation can range from refusing to comply with ICE detainers to otherwise impeding the efforts of federal law enforcement officials to interact with targeted detainees. Currently, about 300 sanctuary jurisdictions are identified by ICE as having a policy that restricts immigration enforcement in some way, and that number is growing.

President Trump’s administration, and specifically the Department of Justice, headed by Attorney General William Barr announced a “significant escalation” from governments against sanctuary cities and in February 2020, brought lawsuits against various jurisdictions for alleged harboring or aiding of undocumented immigrants.

As with so many controversial immigration policies, the facts are critically important to understanding the complexity of the policies surrounding sanctuary cities, and the Niskanen Center aims to ensure that there is clarity about the policy, in order to build forward-looking solutions. This spring and summer, the Niskanen Center immigration department will publish a series that will answer the following questions:

  1. What is a sanctuary city?
  2. Where are sanctuary cities and is there a political divide?
  3. What are the policies that shape sanctuary city status?
  4. What is an ICE detainer?
  5. What is local law enforcement doing and what can they do?
  6. What is the cost of detainment to jurisdictions?
  7. Are we accidentally detaining citizens?
  8. Are these policies working? 

We hope this series will begin important discussions around building effective sanctuary cities that protect the rights of all members of the community.

Photo credit: 7beachbum from Tsuruoka, Japan / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)