Sanctuary Cities Aren’t New And Not All That Liberal in Their Origin – So-called “sanctuary cities” have been in the news in recent weeks, as the crisis at the border shows no sign of getting resolved. These urban centers – including Chicago, New York, Denver, and Los Angeles – have seen an influx of migrants, often bused from Texas and other border states.
However, many of these cities are not at a breaking point due to the ongoing border crisis.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams fired back in August that his city’s shelter system had been overwhelmed by the nearly 100,000 migrants and asylum-seekers who had arrived since spring 2022. Adams called for federal funding, while he further urged the federal government to expedite the processing of work permit applications so that many of those migrants could legally work in the U.S.
“This should be handled at the border and ensure when people come in, number one, they should be allowed to go to the destinations that they desire and not just incentivized to go to New York or Washington or Chicago, as it currently is being put in place,” Adams said. “Then we should ensure that the entire country absorbs this influx of asylum-seekers so that we are not leaning on three cities in the northern part of the country.”
Sanctuary Cities: Not as Liberal as Some Claim
It is common today to see certain media outlets suggest that it was “bleeding heart liberals” who were willing to open the city gates to migrants and asylum seekers – and even suggest it was a problem that began in the past decade. However, sanctuary cities actually date back to the Reagan era and the decade of excessive.
It wasn’t exactly the most liberally-minded that introduced the first “sanctuaries.” Rather, much as it has been since the Middle Ages, the concept of sanctuary began within the church. In its medieval form, sanctuary law granted anyone – even criminals – protection within the walls of a Christian church.
According to English law, no one could be forcibly removed from the sanctuary of a church. The concept goes back even further when Greek and Roman temples offered similar protection to fugitives.
It was then in the 1980s that sanctuary cities began to gain traction in the United States, taking root as part of the religious philosophy to protect the downtrodden, notably certain Central American refugees. Asylum seekers arriving from El Salvador and Guatemala were welcomed by faith-based groups in the American southwest.
“Its origin is actually not in any government policy,” Michael Kagan, professor of law at the University of Nevada, told Voice of America in August. “Its origin was in civil disobedience, especially in a network of churches in the 1980s that said they wanted to provide sanctuary to Central American refugees that the government was trying to deport. And so, it was an act of civil disobedience, basically telling the government if you want this person, you’re going to have to storm a church to get them.”
However, this message of Christian charity then spread by the mid-1980s to San Francisco, which became the first urban center to pass the largely symbolic “City of Refuge” resolution.
Today there are more than 560 cities, states, and counties that are considered to be sanctuaries.
Doesn’t Violate Federal Law
A common misconception is that sanctuary cities violate federal law, but current legislation only requires public entities to share and maintain information that has been gathered on an individual’s citizenship or immigration status. Federal law does not require compliance with federal requests to prolong detention, nor does it impose an affirmative duty to gather information about the place of birth or immigration status.
Moreover, in August 2017, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a provision of the executive order issued by the Trump administration that limited funding to jurisdictions that don’t collaborate with federal immigration enforcement.
That executive order was aimed directly at sanctuary cities, but the court ruled that the order curbing federal funding to sanctuary cities was unconstitutional, while it further found that federal funding could be suppressed only through congressional authorization.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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