Sanctuary Cities: Top 3 Pros and Cons

Last updated on: | Author: | MORE HEADLINES
Cite this page using APA, MLA, Chicago, and Turabian style guides
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California.
Source: © Getty Images

While there is no official legal definition of “sanctuary city,” the term generally refers to towns, cities, or counties that decline to cooperate completely with federal detention requests related to undocumented immigrants, often with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. [2]

Some argue that sanctuary cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Chicago should not receive federal funding because they are not enforcing federal immigration laws. Others say that sanctuary city policies protect both citizens and undocumented immigrants.

There are 11 states, 40 cites, and 143 counties listed as sanctuary jurisdictions by the Center for Immigration Studies as of Mar. 22, 2021. [32]

Florida banned sanctuary cities on June 14, 2019, joining at least 11 other states with similar rules, according to CNN. Representatives in other states have since pushed for sanctuary cities bans, including New Hampshire, Georgia, and Oklahoma. [22] [24] [25] [26]

Sanctuary cities grew from the Sanctuary Movement the late 1980s and early 1990s in which religious congregations began helping undocumented Salvadorian and Guatemalan families settle in the United States. They acted in direct defiance of US immigration authorities, who denied over 90% of asylum requests by immigrants fleeing violence in El Salvador and Guatemala. The sanctuary activists believed that the federal government was breaking international and domestic refugee law. [1] [2]

Los Angeles was the first city to enact sanctuary policies, with a focus on undocumented immigrants already in the United States. The chief of police enacted Special Order No. 40 on Nov. 27, 1979, stating that police officers should not inquire about immigration status and should provide city services to everyone equally. San Francisco followed suit, passing the “City of Refuge” resolution in 1985 and “City of Refuge” ordinance in 1989, requiring that all city employees stop immigration policing and provide city services to all residents regardless of immigration status. [2] [12] [29]

The Trump administration held that the federal government should be able to withhold funds from sanctuary cities for their non-compliance with federal laws. The Biden administration reversed that policy. [22] [27] [28] [30][31]

Should Sanctuary Cities Receive Federal Funding?

Pro 1

Sanctuary cities encourage better relationships between undocumented immigrants and law enforcement.

Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones says undocumented immigrant cooperation with police is statistically proven to make sanctuary cities safer. [15]

Murder rates in San Francisco, one of the oldest sanctuary cities, were at their lowest in 2014 (with 45 murders) since the 1989 “City of Refuge” ordinance was enacted. [15]

San Francisco’s murder rate is lower than comparable non-sanctuary cities, with 5.75 murders per 100,000 residents in 2013 compared to 11.39 in Dallas and 15.17 in Indianapolis. [15]

70% of undocumented immigrants are less likely to report being the victim of a crime, and 45% of Latinos are less likely report crimes or voluntarily offer information about a crime for fear police officers would about their immigration status. The fear of being asked about immigration status also makes people less likely to cooperate with investigations. [15] [16] [19]

Read More

Pro 2

Sanctuary policies are legal and protected by the Tenth Amendment.

The Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution provides for the separation of federal and state powers.

According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Amendment prevents the “federal government from coercing state or local governments to use their resources to enforce a federal regulatory program, like immigration,” and, thus, Congress cannot compel state or local governments to collect immigration status information in order to share it with the federal government. [4] [7]

Because the data is never collected due to “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies, the local and state governments are not in violation of federal law. [4]

Read More

Pro 3

Sanctuary cities protect undocumented immigrants against federal immigration laws.

Many people believe that the federal immigration deportation policies are unjust because they target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately, deport people who have lived in the United States since childhood, deport people who have committed no crimes, separate families, and cause people to live in constant fear of deportation and its devastating consequences. [11]

Libby Schaaf, Mayor of Oakland, California, said, “I like to compare this to conscientious objector status. We are not going to use our resources to enforce what we believe are unjust immigration laws.” [11]

Read More

Con 1

Sanctuary cities harbor criminals, creating a dangerous environment for US citizens.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant, had seven felony convictions in the United States and had been deported from the country five times. Yet, the city of San Francisco declined to detain him for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officials (ICE) officials and released him into the community. In July 2015, Lopez-Sanchez was charged with murdering Katie Steinle in San Francisco. [8] [9]

Of 8,145 undocumented immigrants released from detention requests between Jan. 1, 2014 and Aug. 31, 2014, 5,132 (63%) had previous criminal convictions or were marked a public safety concern; 2,984 (36.6%) had felony charges or convictions; 1,909 (23.4%) had misdemeanor convictions or charges related to violence, assault, sexual abuse, weapons, or drug distribution; and 239 (2.9%) had three or more misdemeanor convictions. [18]

Read More

Con 2

Sanctuary policies defy federal laws to which state and local governments are bound.

8 U.S. Code § 1373 states that “a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” [5]

The Department of Justice requires that most recipients of federal grant money certify their compliance with all federal laws. Sanctuary cities, by not asking about, recording, and submitting to the federal government the immigration statuses of residents, are violating federal law and the rules for getting federal grant money. [4] [6]

Read More

Con 3

Sanctuary policies prevent local and state police officers from doing their jobs.

Sanctuary policies prevent police from investigating, questioning, and arresting people who have broken federal immigration law. Many crimes, violent and otherwise, could be prevented if local law enforcement in sanctuary cities could arrest undocumented immigrants for their first crime on US soil—illegal entry into the country—and turn them over to federal law enforcement. [14]

According to Heather Mac Donald, Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, many Salvadorian gang members living in Los Angeles entered the United States illegally, but because of sanctuary policies, LA police officers cannot arrest the undocumented immigrants for illegal entry. Instead, law enforcement has to wait for a second crime to be committed to get the criminals off the street. [14]

Read More
New York City, NYC, USA

Discussion Questions

1. How would you summarize the reasons why cities or states might decline to cooperate with the federal government on detention requests? What other solutions can you think of to address their concerns?

2. Should the federal government be allowed to withhold funding based on any reasons it decides? Why or why not?

3. Which side do you find most compelling? List three specific pieces of supporting evidence from the article (or from additional research) that support your view.

Take Action

1. Consider the argument that sanctuary cities do not suffer increased crime from Daniel E. Martínez and Ricardo D. Martínez-Schuldt.

2. Explore the topic of sanctuary cities at Learning for Justice.

3. Analyze Hans von Spakovsky’s argument that sanctuary cities make us less safe.

4. Consider how you felt about the issue before reading this article. After reading the pros and cons on this topic, has your thinking changed? If so, how? List two to three ways. If your thoughts have not changed, list two to three ways your better understanding of the “other side of the issue” now helps you better argue your position.

5. Push for the position and policies you support by writing US national senators and representatives.


1.Peter Mancina, “In the Spirit of Sanctuary: Sanctuary-City Policy Advocacy and the Production of Sanctuary-Power in San Francisco, California,”, Aug. 2016
2.Matthew Green and Jessica Carlton, “What Are Sanctuary Cities and How Are They Bracing for Trump’s Proposed Immigration Crackdown?,”, Nov. 17, 2016
3.Jasmine C. Lee, Rudy Omri, and Julia Preston, “What Are Sanctuary Cities?,”, Sep. 3, 2016
4.Immigrant Legal Resource Center, “FAQ on Federal Grant Conditions and Cooperation with Immigration Enforcement,”, July 2016
5.Legal Information Institute, “U.S. Code, Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter II, Part IX, § 1373,” (accessed Nov. 25, 2016)
6.Bureau of Justice Assistance, “Office of Justice Programs Guidance Regarding Compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373,” (accessed Nov. 25, 2016)
7.Michael John Garcia, “‘Sanctuary Cities’: Legal Issues,”, Jan. 15, 2009
8.Christina Littlefield, “Sanctuary Cities: How Kathryn Steinle’s Death Intensified the Immigration Debate,”, July 24, 2015
9.Lee Romney, Cindy Chang, and Joel Rubin, “Fatal Shooting of S.F. Woman Reveals Disconnect between ICE, Local Police; 5-Time Deportee Charged,”, July 6, 2015
10.Janie Har and Amy Taxin, “San Francisco’s Status as ‘Sanctuary’ Criticized after Slaying,”, July 7, 2015
11.Jennifer Medina and Jess Bidgood, “Cities Vow to Fight Trump on Immigration, Even If They Lose Millions,”, Nov. 28, 2016
12.Daryl F. Gates, “Special Order No. 40,”, Nov. 27, 1979
13.Jessica Vaughan, “Sanctuary Cities Continue to Obstruct Enforcement, Threaten Public Safety,”, Aug. 31, 2016
14.Heather Mac Donald, “The Illegal-Alien Crime Wave,”, Winter 2004
15.Josh Harkinson, “Actually, Sanctuary Cities Are Safer,”, July 10, 2015
16.Nik Theodore, “Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement,”, May 2013
17.Bettina Boxall, “Violent Crime in California Rose 10% in 2015, State Attorney General Says,”, July 1, 2016
18.Jessica Vaughan, “Ignoring Detainers, Endangering Communities,”, July 2015
19.Zoe Lofgren, “Sanctuary Cities Keep Communities Safe,”, July 28, 2015
20.Bryan Griffith and Jessica M. Vaughan, “Maps: Sanctuary Cities, Counties, and States,”, Apr. 16, 2019
21.Catherine E. Shoichet, “Florida Just Banned Sanctuary Cities. At Least 11 Other States Have, Too,”, June 14, 2019
22.Brett Samuels, “Trump: Government Will Start Withholding Funds from Sanctuary Cities after Court Ruling,”, Mar. 5, 2020
23.Bryan Griffith and Jessica M. Vaughan, “Map: Sanctuary Cities, Counties, and States,”, Mar. 23, 2020
24.Max Sullivan, “NH Rep. Wants to Ban Sanctuary Cities. He Put the Question on WHS School Ballot, “, Feb. 13, 2020
25.KJRH News, “Bill Filed to Ban Sanctuary Cities in Oklahoma,”, Jan. 15, 2020
26.Joshua Nelson, “Georgia Republicans Push Bill to Ban Sanctuary Cities: The President Is 100% Right,”, Feb. 25, 2020
27.White House, “Remarks by President Trump and Vice President Pence in Roundtable with Industry Executives on the Plan for Opening Up America Again,”, Apr. 29, 2020
28.Tobias Hoonhout, “Federal Appeals Court Rules Against Trump Admin. Move to Block Funding from Sanctuary Cities,”, May 1, 2020
29.H.B.C., “What Are Sanctuary Cities?,”, Nov. 22, 2016
30.Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case on California Sanctuary Law,”, June 15, 2020
31.Rebecca Beitsch, "DOJ Rescinds Trump-Era 'Sanctuary Cities' Policy,", Apr. 28, 2021
32.Jessica M. Vaughan and Bryan Griffith, “Map: Sanctuary Cities, Counties, and States,”, Mar. 22, 2021