Friday, December 16, 2016

The City Spot Café: Sanctuary Cities

What you need to know right now about sanctuary cities, served up by the LMC Research and Information Service team. 

 Definition: There is no legal definition for the term “sanctuary city.” Generally, the phrase is used to refer to cities that have adopted a policy of limited cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Many cities call their ordinance or policy a “separation” ordinance—indicating a separation between the role of local law enforcement and the role of federal law enforcement regarding immigration.

Plain-language explanation: Because neither “sanctuary city” nor “separation ordinance” are terms defined in law, there is no clear agreement on what makes a city a “sanctuary city.” Some cities have self-identified as sanctuary cities, but the specifics of any policy varies widely. Some cities have justified adoption of these policies because there is a belief that if people are afraid to call the police because of their immigration status, it makes cities less safe and crimes go unreported. Critics of such policies argue that the lack of communication between cities and federal immigration agents about a person’s immigration status makes cities less safe. There have been several proposals to strip “sanctuary cities” of federal funding, but no legislation has actually been passed by Congress.

In the news: Discussion of local governments adopting policies related to immigration has intensified recently. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have found themselves in the news for ordinances each city adopted several years ago. Northfield recently adopted a personnel policy related to immigration status. In addition, the Department of Justice has recently announced it will require Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) recipients to comply with a law (8 U.S.C. § 1373) that prohibits any local government or official from enacting restrictions on sending information to, or receiving information from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service regarding the citizenship or immigration status of any individual. This new requirement could affect some cities based on their specific policies, but at this time, it is not clear what policies would be deemed noncompliant.  Guidance has been released by the Department of Justice about the compliance requirement.

League position: The League is closely monitoring immigration issues and how they may impact cities. If your city is considering changing city policies or ordinances as they may relate to immigration matters, please contact the League for more information. The National League of Cities has been monitoring the issue on the federal level as well, especially regarding any potential discontinuation of federal funding for cities. More information from the National League of Cities can be found in their Nov. 19, 2016, Advocacy Update.

This information has been compiled by Quinn O'Reilly, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1271.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

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