What is a Sanctuary City?

What is a Sanctuary City?A “sanctuary city” is not a precise legal term. A city’s residents typically do not vote to designate their city a “sanctuary city,” but its leader can. A city, town or county (or, in the case of California, a state) is designated as a “sanctuary” because it directs (or asks) local law enforcement not to work with the federal government on immigration matters. Immigration matters are almost always regulated by federal law, not by state or local law. Some states or cities claim that their police forces are stretched too thin to enforce federal immigration law, that residents will not trust police and not report crimes if local police are believed to hold immigrants for federal immigration officials, and that cities and counties are not paid to enforce federal crimes. On the other hand, others argue that local police help federal officials solve a variety of federal laws and that immigration is no different.

Whether a location is a sanctuary city is relevant to how illegal immigrants should be treated if they are charged or arrested for a non-immigration criminal offense, such as driving a car without having a license.

The relationship between sanctuary cities and immigration

When an undocumented immigrant is stopped, questioned or arrested for any criminal offense, the police check his or her name in a federal database set up or used by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE can then request that a hold/detainer be placed on that person. Essentially, ICE asks the police or sheriff to detain the person until ICE can determine if deportation is appropriate and detain the person. The person can be detained for minor charges (such as a  traffic violation) or major charges (possession of narcotics, domestic violence) or for other reasons provided the police officer reasonably believes a crime has been committed. Remember, however, that federal law makes it a crime for an immigrant to have entered the United States without a proper Visa. Thus, an immigrant can be stopped and found to be here illegally, and ICE can get involved.

If a city is a sanctuary city, then the person detained or held by the police is freed after he or she has served their time for the state or local crime or offense, or has been cleared of any wrongdoing, or has posted bail. A sanctuary city will not hold the detainee after his or her release, clearance, or posting of bail until ICE can physically come and get the person. In short, a sanctuary city does not take any extra steps to detain the person so ICE can deport him or her. The exact policy, how the police should handle immigration issues, can be written in law (de jure) or it can be a matter of practice (de facto).

Tennessee does not have any sanctuary cities. Tennessee state law, however, prevents local governments from creating policies that stop local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration. There is current legislation under consideration to withhold government funds from any local entity that does not cooperate with the federal government in these matters.

Undocumented immigrants are at risk of being deported. Legal immigrants can be deported if they violate the terms of their stay or laws that allow for deportation. If you or someone you love is in danger of being deported or is in ICE’s custody, you need immediate legal help from an experienced Nashville immigration lawyer. For help, call the Law Office of Perry A. Craft at 615-953-3808 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment.