Sanctuary Cities: What An Undocumented Immigrant Needs To Know Today

Despite the recent changes brought about by the Trump administration, many cities recognize that undocumented immigrants are a vital part of the local community and economy—and the leaders of those towns and cities don't want to lose all of that. Many of those leaders are willing to commit to the continued representation of their cities as "sanctuary cities," despite sweeping federal mandates and expected changes that could make it more difficult to do so in the near future. If you're an undocumented immigrant, this is what you should know about sanctuary cities.

What is a sanctuary city?

There is no formal legal meaning for the term, which means that immigrants can't simply go to the city office and request some form of protection against deportation. What sanctuary cities do, for the most part, is passively protect undocumented immigrants from deportation by refusing to comply with federal immigration enforcement policies.

How do they provide sanctuary to immigrants?

It's important to keep in mind that immigration control is a federal responsibility—not something that falls under local or state jurisdiction. That leaves both state and local law enforcement broad latitude to decide how much they choose to cooperate with the federal government. This is very similar to how some states are allowing marijuana growth and sales, despite the federal ban on the drug.

In the case of immigrants, city or state employees are told not to inquire about a person's immigration status and not try to detain someone that they determine might be in the country illegally. Local and state police will also not alert the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) that they have a possible illegal immigrant in custody, nor will they detain a person for ICE to come collect, regardless of that person's immigration status if he or she is in custody for a non-violent crime, brought in as a witness or victim of a crime, or even convicted of a minor offense.

In some cases, the state or local authorities will also not tell ICE when an undocumented immigrant is released from custody, even if requested, making it difficult for ICE to pick that person up before he or she manages to fade back into the community or move on.

Why do state and local authorities do this?

Broadly, there are a number of reasons city and state authorities would choose to defy federal authorities, including humanitarian reasons, economic reasons, and social reasons. Some communities actually highly depend on immigrants as a major source of both the local workforce and consumers, so the economic stability of the area could be put at risk if the immigrants all fled. Other communities feel that it would lead to unnecessary social unrest, which isn't needed and easily avoided. Finally, many fear that unless they adopt such policies they could be endangering the safety of many people, immigrant or otherwise. If an immigrant woman is raped, for example, but she's too afraid to go to the police because of her immigration status, her rapist could go on to attack and hurt other women for quite a while before being caught.

What is happening to sanctuary cities?

Under the new federal administration, the White House intends to withhold federal grants from local governments that don't comply with ICE's demands. For now, many cities and states have determined that their economic losses would still be greater if they were to submit to the new orders.

Just the same, it's likely that some sanctuary cities or states will end up complying with the federal authorities—at least in part. If you're an undocumented immigrant, that makes it especially important to try to change your status so that you can legally stay in the country. If you have family members who are at risk of deportation because paperwork was never formally filled out or long lost, they could also be at risk of deportation. Your best bet for keeping your family intact is to contact an immigration attorney today to start working on the process. Contact a professional like Carmen DiAmore-Siah Attorney At Law to learn more.