There has been a lot of talk around here about sanctuary cities especially because of the recent resolution of the Urbana, Illinois city council. What is a sanctuary city?
During the 1980s, many people from El Salvador and Guatemala fled their countries due to civil war. Many of those fleeing went to the United States, but had no legal permission to be in this country. Some churches and synagogues took in a few of these immigrants and provided them with “sanctuary.” The word “sanctuary” in this context refers to the now-defunct rule of English common law that fugitives were immune from arrest in churches. The idea was that although police may have a legal right to go into a church to arrest an unauthorized immigrant they would refrain from doing so out of respect for tradition or the status of a church as a sacred space.
Thus began the Sanctuary Movement, which soon spread to some cities. Of course, a city is not a church so to call a city a “sanctuary” for unauthorized immigrants takes the word away from what it meant for the Sanctuary Movement. One of the first sanctuary cities in the United States was Los Angeles in 1979. Special Order 40 forbade LAPD officers from detaining people solely to find out their immigration status.
Presently, there are many cities in the United States that have designated themselves a sanctuary city. No definitive list of cities exists because there is no legal definition for a sanctuary city. A good working definition is a city that has policy or practice limiting its cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Of course the details vary by city. Federal law prohibits laws or policies that stop the transfer of information about immigration status from state or local governments to the federal government. Federal law does not require state or local governments to collect such information.
Recently, on Monday December 19, 2016, Urbana passed resolution calling itself a sanctuary city. The resolution outlines that there will be no inquiries made as to the citizenship or immigration status of any individual by the City employees unless required by court order or if pertinent to litigation involving the City. It also states City benefits will not be denied to individuals based on their citizenship or immigration status unless required by federal or state law or court order. The resolution touches upon some other points, such as human rights, and oppositions to any plan that threatens to remove federal funds from sanctuary cities. The resolution may be read in full here: http://www.urbanaillinois.us/sites/default/files/attachments/Resolution_2016-12-070R.pdf In short, Urbana is a sanctuary city because limits its cooperation with federal immigration authorities by refusing to gather information about immigration status that might be used by federal authorities seeking to enforce immigration laws. It is important to note that, for reasons articulated in Printz v. United States, a 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court authored in 1997 by the late Justice Scalia, the U.S. Constitution forbids the federal government from requiring state and local governments from helping to enforce federal laws. Immigration law is federal law. Urbana’s sanctuary city ordinance is clearly lawful. Whether it is good policy is a further question we do not discuss here.
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Erwin, Martinkus & Cole, Ltd. assists clients with their Immigration legal needs. We represent clients nationwide and in central Illinois, including but not limited to Champaign, Urbana, Bloomington, Normal, Danville and Decatur.
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