Recently, the media and politicians have used the term “sanctuary city” as both a sword and a shield, both as a standard to strive for and as a pejorative. But much like the term “amnesty” that has been used very similarly of late, “sanctuary city” has no fixed and agreed upon definition. What is commonly accepted is that a “sanctuary city” refers to a state or local government that has policies that in one way or another refuse to fully cooperate with the efforts and requests of federal immigration officials. Some of these cities will refuse to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in any form or fashion (San Francisco) and others simply ban their employees from inquiring about a resident’s immigration status.
The philosophy behind sanctuary city policies are both fiscal and ideological, emotional and detached. Should local law enforcement care about enforcing federal immigration laws over which they have no jurisdiction? Should local governments care about the immigration status of a child enrolling in school when they will accept the child regardless of their status? These are all issues ripe for debate, but one thing is clear, these policies come about in localities where there is a distrust of and poor communication between federal immigration officers and local officials.
State and local budgets are tight enough without having locals take on the additional responsibilities and costs associated with enforcing immigration laws and proactively assisting federal immigration officers. Undocumented and even legal residents are apprehensive about interacting with local law enforcement when the locals start asking questions about immigration status.