Sanctuary Cities: What They Mean for Ithaca and Beyond

Sanctuary City
February 15, 2017
Gabriella Lifsec

The Sanctuary City Movement has grown dramatically in recent months. Since the presidential election in November, the media has reported on cities around the country that are either declaring sanctuary city status or passing resolutions to become sanctuary cities. However, the definition of these cities vary. Some find that the word “sanctuary” misleads the public since it promises protections that schools or cities cannot provide, while others find that it is more of a “moral aspiration,” a way for communities to express their obligation to protect all members. To understand the history of sanctuary cities, we can look at their roots beginning with the protection of fugitive slaves, followed by the Sanctuary City Movement in the 1980s.
When a Supreme Court ruling granted the federal government control over fugitive slaves, through the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, non-slave states withdrew cooperation and used their resources to “frustrate federal power.” In order to defy federal authority and protect fugitive slaves, certain states instructed officers not to arrest suspected fugitive slaves and denied federal marshals access into jails that had fugitives. This helps inform us of what is needed for today’s sanctuary city policies. In order to create a safe environment for undocumented immigrants, we have to “end the policing policies that bring undocumented immigrants into the courts and jails in the first place.”
The term “sanctuary city” itself was first used in the 1980s when the U.S. refused Salvadoran and Guatemalan asylum seekers. In 1985, San Francisco was the first city to forbid city police from complying with federal immigration officials. Other cities followed shortly thereafter, along with religious institutions such as churches. The sanctuary movement of today looks similar to that of the 1980s, but has now expanded to over 300 jurisdictions (cities and counties).
Purpose of Sanctuary Cities Today
Sanctuary cities and counties span the U.S.. While policies vary, the most effective sanctuary city policies are the ones that have a “local, law-binding [resolution] with accountability measures in place.” These stronger policies also hold the police responsible, should they go against sanctuary city policy. The cities and counties that have simply stated that they are sanctuaries, without explicit directions for their law enforcement officials, need to tighten their declarations in order “to prohibit rogue employees from delivering vulnerable immigrants to ICE,” according to the NACLA.
While a local jurisdiction does not have the same authority as the federal government, there are strategies by which the community can protect its undocumented residents from ICE. For example, the sanctuary policy may direct that an officer cannot ask for people’s papers when they are pulled over for a speeding ticket. Ultimately, the policies are a general statement of inclusivity, granting those who reside within the cities a sense of security. In places like Ithaca, where community policing is emphasized, this policy ensures that people know that their police are here to protect them. As of now, mayors in more than thirty-nine cities have declared that their cities are sanctuaries and that the police are there to protect undocumented people.
Below are statements by police chiefs and mayors around the country, both in support and in opposition to sanctuary city status.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Statement:
“What we don’t do is ask local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws — and that’s an official LAPD policy that has been enforced for nearly 40 years. That is for everyone’s good, because trust between police and the people they serve is absolutely essential to effective law enforcement.”
“We are not going to run from that history. We will not be complicit in the deportation of our neighbors. Under my leadership as Mayor, the City of Portland will remain a welcoming, safe place for all people regardless of immigration status.”
“We’re a city in which people, regardless of their documentation status, know that they can report a crime, or if they’re a victim of a crime they can come forward, if they’re a witness to a crime they can come forward, and know that that information will be used to keep all of them safe and will not be used to deport them.”
Asked again, more directly, whether he will consider officially designating Houston a sanctuary city, Turner said: "It is a welcoming city. And that is the message I want to emphasize."
“I do not want to put Miami-Dade County as a ‘sanctuary city,’ which we have never claimed to be a sanctuary city, and put us at risk because, remember, all of those that you’re talking about is discretionary funds from the federal government. The government has that discretion. The federal government has the discretion to give us that money or not, and I don’t want to put us at risk of not receiving those discretionary funds.” 
“I’m not going to make Fresno a sanctuary city because I don’t want to make Fresno ineligible from receiving potentially millions of dollars in infrastructure and other types of projects. My philosophy is to follow the law and to avoid these national culture-war questions.”
Read more here:
“This is an ordinance - not just a statement - but an actual ordinance that will ensure Ithaca remains a sanctuary for all hard-working people. Trump wants to break us apart. He is targeting sanctuary cities - falsely believing that we will turn in our neighbors to save ourselves. Well, we are not taking it laying down.”
Cynthia Brock, 1 st Ward Alderperson of the Ithaca Common Council, provided a summary of what the Ithaca resolution intended to do:
“What the ordinance does is establish in City law how IPD (Ithaca Police Department) and its officers are to behave in being 'non-involved' in the enforcement of federal immigration regulations.  This would prevent officers from freely seeing themselves as enforcers on behalf of ICE. This means that all IPD officers will receive training and instruction on the ordinance, and compliance with these regulations are required.”