'Sanctuary Cities': Legal Issues [Updated January 9, 2008]   [open pdf - 72KB]

Controversy has arisen over the existence of so-called "sanctuary cities." The term 'sanctuary city' is not defined by federal law, but it is often used to refer to those localities which, as a result of a state or local act, ordinance, policy, or fiscal constraints, limit their assistance to federal immigration authorities seeking to apprehend and remove unauthorized aliens. Supporters of such policies argue that many cities have higher priorities, and that local efforts to deter the presence of unauthorized aliens would undermine community relations, disrupt municipal services, interfere with local law enforcement, or violate humanitarian principles. Opponents argue that sanctuary policies encourage illegal immigration and undermine federal enforcement efforts. […]. Reportedly, some jurisdictions with sanctuary policies take a 'don't ask, don't tell' approach, where officials are barred from inquiring about a person's immigration status in certain circumstances. Though this method does not directly conflict with federal requirements that states and localities permit the free exchange of information regarding persons' immigration status, it results in specified agencies or officers not possessing information that they could potentially share with federal immigration authorities. In the 110th Congress, several bills have been introduced that attempt to limit formal or informal sanctuary policies and induce greater sharing of immigration information by state and local authorities.

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CRS Report for Congress, RS22773
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