Sanctuary Cities: Federalism’s Local Frontiers

Benjamin Woodring
Sanctuary involves cities, counties, or entire states providing some sort of safe harbor to unauthorized immigrants.

Sanctuary involves cities, counties, or entire states providing some sort of safe harbor to unauthorized immigrants.

Skreidzeleu via Shutterstock

What is “sanctuary” and what does it have to do with the practice of law? In the United States, it is not a formal legal term. Its invocation does not magically accomplish anything (unlike for Esmeralda in the Hunchback of Notre Dame). Today, sanctuary is shorthand for different practices regarding a city’s orientation to the federal government, and specifically to the US government’s immigration policies. Sanctuary involves cities, counties, or entire states providing some sort of safe harbor to unauthorized immigrants, either on defense (taking a minimally compliant approach to federal immigration policy) or offense (passing laws or ordinances that make life easier for the unauthorized).

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