Sanctuary Cities and the Fight against the New Administration


Author: Kalisa Mora, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

In the days after the 2016 election, there was a wide divergence among Americans. A clear divide ensued between those who were satisfied with the elections and those who were in fear of what the next four years meant for their safety, their protection, and the future of their rights. In the following days, thousands of Americans expressed their concern over the promises made from the Trump/Pence campaign.[1] The Latino community voiced concerns over the promises made by President Trump to immediately deport millions of immigrants, build a wall, and his intention to dispose of President Obama’s executive orders on deferred action as soon as he takes the oath of office.[2] In response to this fear, several cities across the nation have declared or reaffirmed their status as “sanctuary cities” and as safe havens to undocumented immigrants in the coming months.[3]

An Objective Look at What it Means to be a Sanctuary City

Sanctuary cities rose out of the passing of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) that required local governments to cooperate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.[4] Despite the IIRIRA, many American communities adopted what they call “sanctuary policies.”[5] These policies are essentially a refusal to abide by national immigration policies to notify the federal government when an illegal immigrant is found in their jurisdiction.[6] These policies can be either expressly found in a law or as a matter of practice in the jurisdiction.[7] Generally, these policies can range from disuse of funds or resources to enforce national immigration laws to forbidding police or other municipal employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.[8] There are currently forty cities in twenty states in the United States that have declared their geographic bounds as sanctuary cities

Sanctuary cities provide a feeling of security and an air of freedom from the threat of deportation for undocumented immigrants. In sanctuary cities, an immigrant’s typical interaction with police does not cause panic and uneasiness. Without the threat of deportation, undocumented immigrants are more likely to report crimes, specifically sexual assault and rape. Sanctuary cities are a safe haven for immigrants who are otherwise fearful, beaten down, and silenced. Unfortunately, these safe places are under a serious threat from President Trump and his administration. 

Reflecting on the Election Rhetoric Concerning the Latino Community

It is irrefutable that Donald Trump made personal affronts to the Latino community during his campaign for President of the United States.[9] When Trump first announced his candidacy for the highest office in America, he used this platform to compare Mexican immigrants to “rapists” and “criminals.”[10] He later went on to call them “killers.”[11] During a public campaign speech, President Trump was informed that two of his supporters attacked and urinated on a Hispanic homeless man.[12] In response, Trump called his followers “very passionate” and wrote off their actions as simply wanting “this country to be great again.”[13] Earlier this year, President Trump claimed a United States District Judge should not be allowed to preside over lawsuits against him solely because of the Judge’s Mexican heritage.[14] Trump even went so far as to call for an investigation into the Judge’s past rulings against him.[15]

However, Donald Trump’s policies also reflect his distaste for the Latino community. The official campaign website lays out “Trump’s 10 Point Plan to Put America First.”[16] The first point is to “[b]egin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one. Mexico will pay for the wall.”[17] This promise was also recently reaffirmed on January 24, 2017 on President Trump’s personal twitter.[18] Finally, since the election, President Trump has promised to immediately deport up to two million undocumented immigrants.[19] While largely unfeasible, this promise carries a significant threat against the future safety and protection of Latinos in America.[20]

Furthermore, during his campaign and after his election to be President, Donald Trump pledged to defund sanctuary cities to guarantee his immigration policy goals.[21] While President Trump has yet to set forth a plan on how the defunding will be accomplished, it is possible for his promise to come into fruition under the newly elected Congress.[22]

Congress has complete control over their spending power.[23] With this “power of the purse,” Congress can force cities and states to bend to its demands on matters of public policy by withholding or placing stipulations on federal funds. For example, in South Dakota v. Dole, the Supreme Court upheld Congress’ ability to withhold transportation funds for highways for states that did not raise the age of drinking to 21.[24] While not plenary, this power has proven effective against cities and states.

The “Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act” failed in the Senate in July of 2016.[25] Despite having a Republican Senate at the time, the bill was unsuccessful.[26] However, Representative Barletta (PA) has already begun movement on a new bill to stop funding for sanctuary cities this term.[27] While the newly elected Senate has less Republicans than the previous term, Republicans still maintain a majority in both chambers of Congress. Based on the support for the defunding of sanctuary cities in the recent election, an anti-sanctuary cities bill could pass. 

Sanctuary City Response to the Recent Election

Undeterred by this pledge, the sanctuary cities have repeated their own pledge to immigrant communities that undocumented immigrants are “safe, secure, and supported” in their cities.[28] Large sanctuary cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle have all pledged to remain sanctuary cities despite President Trump’s 100-day plans.[29]

Since the election, even more cities have announced their intent to protect undocumented immigrants. Most notably, students at the University of Connecticut have demanded that the University become a sanctuary city for undocumented students.[30] Student Body President, Dan Byrd, said “[t]hese are people who were brought to the United States at three months old, two years old. This is their home, this is what they know.”[31] The students have further plans to push for sanctuary status in their city.[32]

The leaders of these cities are not just proclaiming their status as sanctuary cities, they are actively fighting back against the Trump administration’s threat to withhold billions of dollars from their cities.[33] Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, said “these [cities] are the economic, cultural and intellectual energy of this country.”[34] New York Mayor, Bill de Blasio, claimed he would destroy a database of undocumented immigrant cards before handing over the information to the Trump administration.[35] However, even acknowledging the responses by sanctuary cities, the Trump administration has noted their plans to move forward with the promise to defund them.

A Call to Action

Several cities are silent sanctuaries, meaning that while they don’t have explicit policies in place, they do not notify the federal government when an undocumented immigrant is found in their jurisdiction.[36] For instance, in Denver, Colorado, there are no policies that instruct police officers and other city officials to refrain from helping enforce immigration law, but city officials have declared that they “will not enforce, investigate, or detain individuals based on their immigration status.”[37] While helpful, as the clash of the Administration and sanctuary cities continues, it is imperative that more cities come out in full support of protecting undocumented immigrants.

Additionally, the already established sanctuary cities need to produce more protective policies for their jurisdictions. Some of these cities only prohibit police and other officials from inquiring into a person’s immigration status, but still allow for them to notify the federal government if they find an undocumented immigrant in their jurisdiction. These cities, in order to be a true sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, need to provide real support and real safety to undocumented immigrants in the coming months. Trump has promised to immediately deport two to three million undocumented, “criminal” immigrants. Trump has also promised to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the hope of a Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.[38]  Finally, Trump has pledged to build a wall, fifty-five feet or higher, along the south border of the United States.[39] Moreover, he has promised to make Mexico pay for the wall.[40] This dangerous rhetoric against undocumented immigrants, specifically Latinos, must stop. We can no longer tolerate the President’s rhetoric. As Trump’s administration eases into its new role, the best thing for American cities to do is to protect its residents. Sanctuary cities must be vocal and prominent during this important transition in American history.


Sanctuary cities have the opportunity to not only protect undocumented immigrants but to stand tall against the new administration in the coming months. Sanctuary cities are an old concept, but these cities have the opportunity to remobilize and redefine their policies. More protections for these immigrants are urgently needed. Additionally, in light of the recent election, these cities have become that much more important to the communities of undocumented immigrants. If Trump’s Administration follows through on their promise to defund these immigrant sanctuaries, these cities need to be ready and prepared to fight back and uphold their policies.

[1] Steve Lopez, “’The children are afraid’: L.A. Latinos Fear a Trump Presidency”, Los Angeles Times (2016),; Mallory Shelbourne, “Clinton Approached by People ‘Scared’ After Election”, The Hill (2016),; Alex Griswold, “Gay Editor on NPR: LGBT Community More Scared After Trump’s Election Than Pulse Shooting”, Mediaite (2016),

[2] Voto Latino, Twitter (Nov. 10, 2016, 8:38 AM EST), (“I woke up yesterday feeling like a stranger in my own home”) (quoting Ben Monterroso, Executive Director of Mi Familia Vota); Voto Latino, Twitter (Nov. 10, 2016, 8:18 AM EST), (“We will continue to stand together to defend the millions of #Latinos in the US”) (quoting Janet Murguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza); Voto Latino, Twitter (Nov. 10, 2016, 8:13 AM EST), (“We will #StandTogether to protect our community and our rights”) (quoting Hector Sanchez, Executive Director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement).

[3]  A “sanctuary city” is a city in the United States that has adopted a policy to follow certain procedures to provide protection for undocumented immigrants. See, e.g. “Mayors of ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Say They’ll Fight Trump’s Plans, (2016),

[4] Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-208, 110 Stat. 3009-546.

[5] Special Order No. 40, Office of the Chief of Police (1979).

[6] None of California’s 58 counties comply with detainer requests from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. See, e.g. Trump’s Crackdown on Illegal Immigration Leaves a lot Unanswered for Sanctuary Cities like L.A., Los Angeles Times (2016),

[7] Id.

[8] Matthew Green & Jessica Tarlton, What Are Sanctuary Cities and How Are They Bracing for Trump’s Proposed Immigration Crackdown? The Lowdown (2016),

[9] “9 Outrageous Things Donald Trump Has Said About Latinos”, The Huffington Post (2016),

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Carolina Moreno, “9 Outrageous Things Donald Trump Has Said About Latinos”, The Huffington Post (2016),

[14] Hanna Trudo, “Trump Escalates Attack on ‘Mexican’ Judge”, Politico (2016),

[15] Id.

[16] “Donald J. Trump’s 10 Point Plan to Put America First”,

[17] Id.

[18] Donald J. Trump, Twitter (Jan. 24, 2017, 6:37 PM EST), (“Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow. Among many other things, we will build the wall!”).

[19] Jessie Hellmann, “Trump Vows to Deport Millions Immediately”, The Hill (2016),

[20] The Department of Homeland Security has enough resources to conduct only 400,000 deportations every year.


[22] Erin Durkin, NY Daily News, Here’s How Trump’s Plan to Defund Sanctuary Cities Could Play Out, (2016).


[24] 483 U.S. 203 (1987).

[25] Joe Perticone, Here’s How Republicans Could Actually ‘Defund’ Sanctuary Cities, Independent Journal Review (2016).

[26] Id.

[27] Kerry Pickett, GOP Congressman Introduces Bill To Defund Sanctuary Cities, (2017).

[28] Richard Gonzales, Mayor Rahm Emanuel: ‘Chicago Always Will Be a Sanctuary City’, National Public Radio (2016).

[29] Reema Khrais, Trump Promises to Block Funding to Sanctuary Cities, ??? (2016).

[30] Kimberly Armstrong, Study Body, USG Continue Push for Sanctuary City Status, ??? (2016).

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Barnini Chakraborty & Jonathan Hunt, Sanctuary City Mayors Prepare for Clash with Trump Administration, Fox News (2016),

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Mark Matthews, Donald Trump Pledge to Target “Sanctuary” Cities could Cost Denver, Aurora, Denver Post (2016).

[37] Id.

[38] These programs are a tool for the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize deportations and move children and their parents to the bottom of the list. See, e.g. “President Trump Could Change These Policies on Day One”, New York Magazine (2016),

[39] Philip Bump, “Donald Trump’s Mexico Border Wall will be as High as 55 Feet, According to Donald Trump”, The Washington Post (2016),

[40] Id.


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