Sanctuary jurisdictions refer to city, town, and state governments (collectively, localities or local governments) that have passed provisions to limit their enforcement of federal immigration laws. Such local governments execute limiting provisions in order to bolster community cooperation, prevent racial discrimination, focus on local priorities for enforcement, or even to a show a local policy that differs from federal policy. The provisions are in the forms of executive orders, municipal ordinances, and state resolutions. Additionally, the scope of the provisions vary by locality: some prohibit law enforcement from asking about immigration status, while others prohibit the use of state resources to enforce federal immigration laws. Despite these variations, such local provisions intend to stifle cooperation with the federal government to adopt a more inclusionary local enforcement policy. Immigration policy is unanimously understood as a federal power, suggesting that federal immigration laws preempt the local governments’ provisions. Such preemption challenges have been brought to court, yet sanctuary cities remain largely untouched.

The July 2015 murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, CA, renewed political discourse on the topic. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant who had been previously deported five times, was charged for the murder. Mr. Lopez-Sanchez’s long history of crime and immigration violations fueled critiques of city policies and put the federal spotlight back onto sanctuary cities. The House of Representatives has since passed H.R. 3009, which would deny some federal assistance to localities that enact provisions prohibiting officers from taking certain actions with respect to immigration. President-elect Donald Trump recently announced his bold plan to cancel all federal funding to such localities. Other immigration-focused measures continue to be introduced and discussed in Congress.

If passed, what practical impact would H.R. 3009, or similar legislation, have on local immigration enforcement? The bill still has considerable obstacles to overcome. However, enactment of such legislation has the potential to push local enforcement towards cooperation with federal policy.