The arguments for and against 'sanctuary cities' in the U.S.

It's an issue that's as complex as it is divisive. We take a look at the pros and cons of sanctuary cities.
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The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul are among the leaders to have pushed back against the Trump administration's threat to withdraw federal funding to "sanctuary cities."

The new president signed an executive order this week forcing so-called sanctuary cities to turn over immigrants in the country illegally to federal authorities in the event they are arrested or they'll lose their federal funding.

The order and subsequent opposition from some city leaders highlights that this is a divisive and complex issue, so GoMN has taken a look at the arguments on both sides of the debate.

What is a sanctuary city?

The term is a broad one and has no formal definition under law, but in essence it sees a jurisdiction – such as a city or county – limit its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, CBS News notes.

This can be achieved in different ways. For example, a city's police force will not stop somebody purely to determine their immigration status, or won't ask about their immigration status if they are stopped for an unrelated offense.

And if an immigrant to the country – whether legally or illegally – is arrested by the police, these jurisdictions may ignore Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests to turn them over to determine their status, or see if they are in violation of their visa/green card.

The Pioneer Press explains Minneapolis and St. Paul have policies in place that prevent police detaining someone just to find out if they're in the country illegally, but they don't block police from turning over suspects in custody to immigration authorities.

Arguments for sanctuary cities

It helps with crime reporting/builds community links: Someone who is in the country illegally may fear questions will be asked of their legal status if they report a crime, NewsMax reports.

Someone, even legal residents, may also be less likely to report a crime to the police – about say, an abusive family member – if the criminal is in the country illegally and could be deported as a result, it's argued.

The Major Cities Chiefs Association says "immigrants residing in our cities must be able to trust the police and all of the city government," according to USA Today, and having sanctuary policies in place helps foster this trust with immigrant communities.

It can stretch resources: This report by the Congressional Research Service found that some jurisdictions have sanctuary rules because their law officers would otherwise be expending time and resources carrying out immigration checks that are ultimately the remit of the federal government.

Supporters of sanctuary cities argue that ordering local authorities to comply with federal immigration enforcement violates the 10th Amendment, which CNBC notes gives local governments the right not to enforce federal mandates.

They may be safer? This is a point of contention, but FBI figures have found that jurisdictions with so-called "sanctuary" policies actually have lower rates of all types of crime than cities without them, as reported by the Washington Post.

What hasn't been determined yet is the reason for this. Cities that have sanctuary rules also tend to have less poverty, which affects crime rates, but the analysis also suggests that sanctuary rules encourage cooperation between police and communities, arguably lowering the potential for crime.

Arguments against sanctuary cities

Illegal immigration is ... well, illegal: Most obviously, the people who are in the country illegally – whether by entering the country unlawfully, or overstaying their visa – are breaking federal law.

The Centers for Immigration Studies argue that ICE shouldn't be obstructed from carrying out their enforcement remit.

Impact on resources: While enforcing immigration laws could impact police resources, allowing immigrants in the country illegally to live in your county/city could have an impact on local budgets.

Although there's no consensus figures on the costs of having unauthorized immigrants in a city, a study by the Congressional Budget Office did say they paid less in taxes than they received through state and local services. However this same study didn't look into the positive economic impacts of these immigrants generated by their spending.

Nonetheless, this is pertinent in the Twin Cities where Minneapolis and St. Paul allows residents – whether legal or illegal – to access certain city services, including some health services.

A 'safe haven' for criminals? The 2015 killing of a San Francisco woman by a convicted felon in the country illegally has been used as an argument among anti-sanctuary city advocates for local police to assist federal authorities.

Critics of sanctuary cities, such as former ICE assistant secretary Julie Myers Wood, claim they create "safe havens" for criminals who find it easier to remain undetected. She told CNN they "provide an environment helpful to Latin American drug cartels, gangs and terrorist cells."

The question is whether this is borne out by statistics. The New York Times reported on a study by the Migration Policy Institute that says there are no definitive records on criminality among undocumented immigrants.

However, its own analysis found that while they are more likely to commit crime than legal immigrants, they are less likely to commit crime than U.S. citizens.

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