‘Sanctuary city‘ is an unofficial and sometimes pejorative term for a city that has deprioritized the enforcement of national immigration laws. Some so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ have adopted regulations prohibiting police or municipal employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. Others decline to prosecute immigrants if they have committed no crime other than entering illegally. The designation has no precise legal meaning and is viewed negatively by some and positively by others. Toronto has been a declared sanctuary city since 2014. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to cut all federal funding for sanctuary cities on his first day in office.
Local governments in a few cities in the US began designating themselves as sanctuary cities during the 1980s. However, the term is often used incorrectly to describe trust acts or community policing policies that limit entanglement between local police and federal immigration authorities. The policy was first initiated in 1979 in Los Angeles, to prevent police from inquiring about the immigration status of arrestees. The internal policy, ‘Special Order 40,’ states: ‘Officers shall not initiate police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person. Officers shall not arrest nor book persons for violation of title 8, section 1325 of the United States Immigration code (Illegal Entry).’
In 2007, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo introduced a bill to Congress attacking sanctuary cities. The legislation would make undocumented immigrant status a felony, instead of a civil offense. The bill also called for withholding up to 50 percent of Department of Homeland Security funds from the cities. The issue entered presidential politics in the race for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 2008. Tancredo ran on an anti-illegal immigration platform and specifically attacked sanctuary cities.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney accused former mayor Rudy Giuliani of running New York City as a sanctuary city. Giuliani’s campaign responded saying that Romney ran a sanctuary Governor’s mansion, and that New York City is not a ‘haven’ for undocumented immigrants. In 2009, the Tennessee state House passed a bill banning the implementation of sanctuary city policies within the state of Tennessee. In 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed legislation to ban sanctuary cities.