Sanctuary Cities: A Safe Place?

April 26, 2016

In July, California resident, Kate Steinle, died from a bullet wound while she was walking near San Francisco’s Pier 14.1 The shot was allegedly fired by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant who had been deported to Mexico five times. He would have been deported to Mexico again if San Franciscan authorities had notified the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after he was released.1 San Francisco does not honor those requests and is considered a “sanctuary city.” Therefore, this “sanctuary city” policy is perceived by some as an indirect cause of Steinle’s death.

What is a sanctuary city?

A “sanctuary city” has no federal legal definition, but is referred to as “localities which, as a result of a state or local act, ordinance, policy, or fiscal constraints, place limits on their assistance to federal immigration authorities seeking to apprehend and remove unauthorized aliens.”2 According to a Congressional Research Service report on the matter, those in favor of sanctuary city policies believe that cities have greater concerns than policing undocumented people and doing so would negatively impact the community in many ways such as the ability to enforce local law and increased tensions between different community groups.2Opponents argue sanctuary cities facilitate illegal activity that is supposedly tied to undocumented immigrants, increase levels of illegal immigration, and hurt federal immigration enforcement of policies.2,3

How many sanctuary cities are in the United States?

The existence and number of sanctuary cities is contested, though according to the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, over 200 state and local jurisdictions have policies that contradict the agency’s requests for detention of undocumented immigrants.3

How do sanctuary cities inform the conversation of immigration policy?

Sanctuary cities have become part of the debate of immigration policy and reforms. Liberals and conservatives are divided on the issue; conservatives oppose these designations. Republican presidential hopefuls such as Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio have made statements against sanctuary cities, which is interesting considering Miami, home for Bush and Rubio is considered by some to be a sanctuary city.4

What recent legislation has been introduced relating to sanctuary cities?

In July, the House of Representatives passed its version of the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act, but the bill did not pass in the Senate in July. The proposed bill would have “withheld some federal funding from cities that shield residents from federal immigration officials.”5 Democrats blamed Trump for the proposed bill. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said “this vile legislation might as well be called the Donald Trump Act, like the disgusting outrageous language championed by Donald Trump…this act was designed to demonize immigrants and spread the myth that they are criminals and threats to the public.”6 Additionally, in San Francisco, the city embroiled in controversy surrounding the death of Kate Steinle, officials voted in the end of October to uphold its sanctuary city policy and to refuse participation in the federal Priority Enforcement Program, despite the rampant backlash.7


1) Almasy, Steven, Pamela Brown, and Augie Martin. "Suspect in Killing of San Francisco Woman Had Been Deported Five times." CNN. Turner Broadcasting System Inc., 4 July 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015. Available at: <

2) Kim, Yule, and Michael John Garcia. "Sanctuary Cities": Legal Issues. Issue brief. Congressional Research Service, 15 Jan. 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

3) Pearson, Michael. "What's a 'sanctuary City,' and Why Should You Care?" CNN. Turner Broadcasting System Inc., 8 July 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015. Available at: <>.

4) Mazzei, Patricia. "Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio Oppose ‘sanctuary’ Cities — but Some Consider Miami to Be One." Miami Herald. N.p., 13 July 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015. Available at: <

5) Wire, Sarah D. "Senate Democrats Block Sanctuary Cities Bill." LA Times. N.p., 20 Oct. 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015. Available at: <

6) Tani, Maxwell. "'This Vile Legislation Might as Well Be Called the Donald Trump Act'" Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc., 20 Oct. 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015. Available at: <>.

7) Dinan, Stephen. "San Francisco Board Votes to Keep Sanctuary City Policy." Washington Times. The Washington Times, LLC, 21 Oct. 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015. Available at: <

About Author(s)

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Marissa Ferrighetto
Marissa Ferrighetto is an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in economics and is pursuing minors in Spanish and history and certificates in Latin American Studies and leadership. The fall semester of her junior year she studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and fell in love with Latin America. She is in her senior year and is a contributor to Panoramas.