Publication / DecodeDC
January 25, 2017
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Defining them is not easy

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump signed an executive action Wednesday at the Department Of Homeland Security that would strip federal grants from so-called “sanctuary cities,” which choose not to turn over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.

“The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize this disregard for our laws,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

While the promise to cut off funding from cities was clear-cut, the definition of “sanctuary cities” is murky and, depending on the definition used, there are up to 300 of them.

Here are some facts about the cities.

What is a “Sanctuary City”?

There is not a single definition for a “sanctuary city,” which is why the term is typically written within quotations. It is instead a colloquial term used by politicians and law enforcement officials to describe places–counties, municipalities or states– that do not fully adhere to Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold and turn-over a person suspected of being an undocumented immigrant. “Sanctuary jurisdiction” probably would be a better catchall term.

The term, however, does not mean that undocumented immigrants detained in an area that falls under the category of “sanctuary city” are immune to deportation. Instead, it means that local law enforcement agencies will not turn over to ICE individuals solely on the basis of them being illegal.

“Sanctuary cities” can range from jurisdictions that fully embrace the name, such as San Francisco, and outwardly refuse to comply with federal agencies, to those that prefer the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.

Where are these “Sanctuary Cities”?

First of all, not all “sanctuary cities” are cities. There are many counties, municipalities and even four states that have enacted policies or legislation that limit local law enforcement from complying with ICE orders.

For example, California, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Vermont have statewide laws that limit how much the local police can cooperate with requests from ICE.

Determining exactly where, and how many, “sanctuary cities” there are isn’t easy because there is no official tally. The Immigration Legal Resource Center found that 364 counties have policies explicitly limiting cooperation with immigration authorities. The New York Times mapped 39 cities on that list, which include big cities like New York, Washington, Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.

However, there are also many smaller cities on the list including Aurora, Colo.; Aberdeen, Wash.; Springfield, Ore.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Tuskegee, Ala.

The Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank, lists 300 “sanctuary jurisdictions” in its count.

Why do these cities, municipalities and states not comply with ICE requests?

The are many reasons for why a county, municipality or state might choose not to comply with ICE requests to hold undocumented immigrants in jail for the sole purpose of deportation.

Some areas whose local government leaders have spoken out against complying with ICE say compliance leads to safety concerns. Calling themselves a “sanctuary city” helps to eliminate fear for those who may think twice about reporting a crime because it could result in deportation.

Smaller jurisdictions say they opt out of the policy because it’s not cost effective. They argue that cities have bigger public safety priorities and too few resources to handle immigration enforcement while waiting for ICE to transfer detainees.

Then there are areas who embrace the sanctuary term and do not believe in deporting illegal immigrants at all, or don’t believe it’s their local jurisdiction’s job — and with that mindset decided not to work in conjunction with ICE.