Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Looking Past the Label: An Analysis of the Measures Underlying "Sanctuary Cities"

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Looking Past the Label: An Analysis of the Measures Underlying "Sanctuary Cities"

Article excerpt


On July 1, 2015, Kate Steinle and her father were walking along Pier 14 in San Francisco when a bullet ricocheted off the pier and struck Kate in the back.1 Tragically, Kate died later that day at San Francisco General Hospital.2 Kate's untimely death sparked public outrage when authorities revealed that the shooter, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, was an unauthorized immigrant released from custody pursuant to a "sanctuary city" policy, despite having been previously deported five times and convicted of seven felonies.3

The finger-pointing between the local and federal government began instantly.4 The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") stated that its agents had issued a detainer requesting Zarate's continued custody.5 But the Sheriff s Department claimed that San Francisco's Due Process for All Ordinance prohibited them from detaining Zarate pursuant to an immigration detainer once he became eligible for release from custody. 6 ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice then clarified that ICE had also requested that the Sheriff s Department notify ICE if they planned to release Zarate so that immigration authorities could take him into custody and deport him.7 Nothing in San Francisco's ordinance prohibited the Sheriff s Department from communicating with ICE.8 Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, however, had ordered his staff not to inform ICE representatives of any impending release.9

This incident reflects a broader trend. States and municipalities are increasingly unwilling to assist federal agencies that are enforcing federal immigration law.10 Indeed, at last count, over 300 localities throughout the United States have adopted formal or informal policies that restrict local police cooperation with federal immigration enforcement efforts.11 These jurisdictions are broadly referred to as "sanctuary cities."12

Kate Steinle's tragic death propelled sanctuary cities to the center of an ongoing immigration debate. Opponents of sanctuary cities argue that sanctuary measures violate federal law and compromise the safety of American citizens.13 These positions gained significant momentum and political support when Republican presidential candidates denounced sanctuary cities to a national audience14 and used Steinle's death as a rallying call.15 Indeed, days after entering office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to strip federal funding from "sanctuary jurisdictions" because they "cause[] immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic."16 Immigrant advocates, on the other hand, fiercely defend sanctuary cities. They claim that local participation in federal immigration enforcement undermines local community policing efforts, drains state and local resources, distracts police from their primary crime-fighting responsibilities, and causes untrained police officers to violate constitutional rights.17

This debate would be more informed and coherent if the media, politicians, and advocates did not lump numerous measures under the single heading of "sanctuary city." Opponents of sanctuary measures label any locality that limits its assistance to federal immigration authorities as an illegal safe haven for criminal aliens.18 Likewise, supporters of sanctuary measures put forth the same policy arguments regardless of which sanctuary measure is being challenged.19 The reality of sanctuary measures is more complex. Put simply, not all sanctuary cities are created equally. States and localities adopt various types of measures limiting their participation in federal immigration enforcement.

This Article discards the unitary, all-encompassing "sanctuary city" label and evaluates the distinct legal and policy issues surrounding differing types of sanctuary measures. Part II provides a brief history of the sanctuary movement. Part III discusses the impact of sanctuary measures on ICE's enforcement efforts. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.