-> This article is part of Documented’s Glossary. We want to make it easier to understand the U.S. immigration system. If you want to know more about different visa types and immigration terms, please check our library here.
-> To find useful information for immigrants, such as where to find free food or legal representation, check out our master resource guide.
Sanctuary policies are designed to limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agents to protect low-priority immigrants from deportation, while still turning over those who have committed serious crimes. These can be enacted at a city, county or state level.
The term comes from the Sanctuary Movement, a religious and political campaign that began in the early 1980s when churches opened their doors to Central Americans fleeing conflict in their home countries. Federal agencies often have a policy of not arresting immigrants on church grounds. While states with sanctuary policies limit its cooperation with ICE it does not mean one is fully protected from the agency.
When undocumented immigrants come into contact with a police officer for misdemeanors (such as driving without a valid license, biking without a tail light, etc) their information is put into a federal database that is shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE can then use a “detainer” to request local law enforcement hold onto the immigrant, for an additional 48 hours after their release, until agents arrive to transport them to detention. Sanctuary jurisdictions generally do not cooperate with detainer requests for nonviolent crimes.
Sanctuary cities have a range of informal policies and actual laws generally designed to protect undocumented immigrants from being detained or deported. However, state and local police will still enforce local and state criminal laws against immigrants accused of committing crimes in sanctuary jurisdictions. Often, ICE will gather publicly available information to make arrests as well.
The states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have adopted sanctuary policies.
For information on legal rights and ICE arrests, go here.
Also read: Guide on how to get free legal help for immigrants NY State.