Sanctuary Cities Fact Sheet

By CIS on November 7, 2018


“Sanctuary” is the practice of shielding aliens in the United States in violation of law from the reach of federal immigration officers. Once the isolated practice of a few church groups permitting a family or two that had crossed the border illegally to shelter in their sanctum, it has morphed into something completely different in recent years.

Talking Points

  • Local sheriffs often want to cooperate with law enforcement, but their hands are tied by sanctuary policies.
  • There is no empirical evidence behind the claim that sanctuary policies increase immigrants’ willingness to cooperate with the police.
  • Sanctuary policies release large numbers of criminal aliens onto the streets — particularly into immigrant communities.
  • Sanctuary policies do not save money — it doesn’t cost a jurisdiction anything to let ICE agents do their job.
  • Anti-sanctuary legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress, yet has not reached the president’s desk.

Fact Sheet

View the Sanctuary City Fact Sheet PDF in a new window.


Today, hundreds of city and county jurisdictions, and even a few states (such as California and Oregon), officially enact laws, regulations, or policies designed to impede federal agents from identifying and taking aliens into custody. Ironically, most of these laws and policies mandate a policy of non-cooperation between state/local police on one hand, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on the other. This happens most frequently in interactions involving police arrests of aliens for criminal violations: An ICE agent seeks information about an arrested alien for purposes of initiating removal proceedings, or files a detainer asking a police or sheriff ’s office to turn the alien over upon release from its jail.

Often, local enforcement would like to cooperate, but their hands are tied because of state laws preventing them from doing so. In Oregon, for instance, at least half of the county sheriffs have endorsed a citizen initiative placed on the November ballot that would repeal the state’s sanctuary law so that they can cooperate with ICE in identifying and removing alien criminals. In California, some locales have rebelled against the state’s sanctuary law and voted to ignore it.

Refuting the False Claims of Sanctuary Jurisdictions

Sanctuary jurisdictions have put forward various arguments to justify their policies, but thoughtful consideration suggests that they don’t stand up to close examination.

“Cooperating with ICE by exchanging information about arrested aliens or honoring detainers will diminish immigrants’ willingness to come forward to report crimes.”

There is no credible, empirical evidence to support the assertion that police-ICE cooperation erodes trust, resulting in limited interaction between police and alien victims and witnesses. The suggestion defies common sense. Exactly who from immigrant communities is being put into the cages of police vehicles? Certainly not victims and witnesses. No, it’s aliens who have been taken into custody for commission of crimes, and statistically it’s a good bet that the victims of and witnesses to the crime(s) were other members of the immigrant community. So why would city, county, or state leaders think that it serves them well to be sure that these alien criminals are treated with kid gloves and, quite likely, sent back to prey once again on those same immigrant communities? Isn’t that where the trust of those communities is most likely to be quickly eroded?

Consider also that when a sanctuary jurisdiction releases a criminal (or serially deported) alien to the streets, it also puts other communities at risk, because such aliens are then free to roam wherever they will, quite possibly changing identities along the way. This appears to be what resulted in the murder of college student Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa. The murder of Tibbetts is far from the only such needless, preventable tragedy; they happen with disturbing regularity.

“By refusing to cooperate with ICE, we are maintaining the public safety by preserving the trust of our immigrant communities.”

There is no conceivable state or local law or policy that will ever prevent ICE agents from effecting arrests as the law or operational necessity dictates. Therefore, when state and local law enforcement decline to surrender alien criminals to ICE agents in the confines of a secure facility such as a jail, they simply force agents to look in those communities during followup investigations for the wanted alien criminal. This often leads to apprehensions on streets and in public places that actually diminish both public and officer safety. Those apprehensions also result in additional “collateral” arrests, because if the alien criminal is in the company of other removable aliens (even those who may not have committed crimes) they inevitably get swept up into the net. The truth is that sanctuary policies only protect alien criminals, not the “otherwise law-abiding” members of immigrant communities.

“We need to preserve our resources and not spend money trying to enforce immigration laws. We have no responsibility for immigration law enforcement.”

Such arguments are a canard. Exactly how much time or money does it take to record filing of a detainer (along with the others routinely filed by many other enforcement agencies), or to notify ICE a day prior to the alien’s date of release so that agents can be there to assume custody? Note also that these agencies are not being asked to “enforce” immigration law, they are simply being asked not to impede ICE agents in doing so. This argument also overlooks the reality that, to be effective, all law enforcement must be cooperative. Imagine if the federal government took a look-the-other way attitude when encountering aliens against whom state or local police had outstanding warrants?

“We will honor requests for cooperation or filing of a detainer when backed up with a judicial warrant.”

This, too, is a specious argument. Federal law makes no provision for judicial warrants in removal cases. Rather, they are issued pursuant to authority granted to the secretary of Homeland Security under Section 236 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1226. It is not for state or local agencies to question the legitimacy of federal law, and in any case it is disingenuous. Consider that police and sheriff ’s offices routinely honor warrants issued by parole boards, which are administrative, not judicial, in nature. Consider also that, when occasion demands, they honor detainers issued for AWOL or deserting military members, which are not backed up by judicial warrants but rather filed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Finally, consider that local police routinely undertake enforcement activities authorized by civil process (evictions, arrest for failure to make child support payments, etc.).

What’s Next?

The federal government has reacted to sanctuary policies by attempting to withhold grant funding for violations of two federal statutes, 8 U.S.C. §§ 1373 and 1644. Sanctuary jurisdictions have sued to retain their access to the funds and achieved victory at lower court levels, although the outcome at the Supreme Court remains to be seen. Meantime, members of both chambers of Congress have introduced anti-sanctuary legislation in various bills, none of which has yet to be put on the president’s desk for signature.