Sanctuary cities, also known as “ciudades santuario en usa” in Spanish, have been making waves in North America and Europe. These cities, committed to a unique approach, limit their cooperation with national immigration enforcement efforts. But what does this really mean, and how does it impact the lives of those residing in these cities? Join me on this exploration of the concept of sanctuary cities, from their historical roots to their modern-day significance.
Defining Sanctuary Cities
In the heart of North America, sanctuary cities have emerged as jurisdictions that choose not to fully engage in federal immigration enforcement. Their leaders claim that this approach is meant to reduce the fear of deportation and family separation among those who are in the country illegally. By doing so, these cities hope to encourage undocumented individuals to report crimes, utilize healthcare and social services, and enroll their children in school.
The U.S. Perspective
In the United States, municipal policies in sanctuary cities include restrictions on local law enforcement and city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. They also deny requests from national immigration authorities to detain individuals beyond their release date if they were incarcerated for breaking local laws. These policies can either be expressly written into law or observed in practice, but the label of a “sanctuary city” lacks a precise legal definition.
According to the American Immigration Reform Federation in 2018, approximately 564 American jurisdictions, spanning states and municipalities, had adopted sanctuary policies. Studies on the relationship between sanctuary status and crime have yielded diverse results, with some showing no significant impact on crime rates and others indicating lower crime rates and stronger economies in sanctuary cities when compared to their non-sanctuary counterparts.
Opponents of sanctuary cities argue that these cities should cooperate with national immigration enforcement to enhance security and reduce crime. In their view, sanctuary cities might inadvertently fuel criminal activities. Supporters, however, argue that local law enforcement should focus on other priorities, and federal immigration enforcement is not within their purview.
Ciudades Santuario en USA Cities in Europe
Across the Atlantic, European cities have also been inspired by the sanctuary city movement in the United States, albeit with distinct meanings. In the UK and continental Europe, the term “sanctuary city” is associated with cities committed to welcoming refugees, asylum seekers, and those seeking safety. These cities prioritize building bridges and fostering understanding through awareness initiatives, friendship programs, and cultural exchanges. Glasgow and Swansea, for example, have become prominent sanctuary cities.
A Historical Perspective
The concept of sanctuary cities has deep historical roots. It’s not a recent phenomenon but has been linked to various religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Baha’ism, Sikhism, and Hinduism. In Western civilization, the concept can be traced back to the Old Testament. The Book of Numbers outlines the selection of six cities of refuge, where individuals who committed accidental homicides could claim the right of asylum, outside of which, the law permitted retribution against them.
Through the Ages
In 392 AD, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I established sanctuaries under ecclesiastical control. In the 6th century, medieval England granted churches a general right of sanctuary, and some cities were designated as sanctuaries by royal charter. However, the general right of sanctuary for churches in England was abolished in 1621.
The Birth of Sanctuary Cities
The sanctuary city movement in the United States took its roots in the early 1980s. It draws inspiration from religious philosophy and stories of resistance against perceived state injustices. The first city to restrict police from inquiring about the immigration status of those arrested was Los Angeles in 1979. San Francisco marked a significant milestone in 1985 by passing a largely symbolic resolution as a “City of Refuge.” The same year, they followed up with an ordinance that prohibited the use of city funds and resources to aid in the federal immigration enforcement, a defining feature of sanctuary cities in the U.S. Today, there are approximately 300 jurisdictions in the U.S. that fit this definition, including major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, and San Diego.
Sanctuary Cities: Population and Impact
Around eleven million undocumented individuals were living in the United States in 2017, with the majority residing in sanctuary cities. These policies significantly reduce deportations for undocumented immigrants without criminal records, but they do not affect those with violent criminal histories.
A Global Perspective
Sanctuary cities are not exclusive to the United States. In Europe, the UK boasts more than 80 cities, municipalities, and regions that have adopted this designation. Notable cities in the U.S. include New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Diego.
In June 2019, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill prohibiting sanctuary cities in the state. The law requires local governments to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and bars them from enacting policies that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. Florida became the 12th state in the U.S. to ban sanctuary cities.
The crisis in Venezuela has prompted an influx of Venezuelans into Colombia, changing the landscape significantly. Cities like Cúcuta have become vital sanctuary cities, offering support to refugees and asylum seekers. Other accessible cities for Venezuelans include Maicao, Bucaramanga, and Arauca, with several more providing aid and support across the country, including Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena de Indias, Pereira, and Aguachica.
Argentina’s Unique Status
Argentina is often considered a sanctuary state for immigrants, primarily due to its rich history of immigration since the 19th century. Immigration has played a significant role in shaping Argentina’s economic and cultural landscape. The country maintains an open immigration policy and welcomes immigrants from all corners of the globe, simplifying the process for obtaining temporary residence. After two years of residency, immigrants can even apply for citizenship.
A Tapestry of Sanctuary
Sanctuary cities, whether in North America or Europe, reflect a shared commitment to supporting those seeking refuge, whether from economic hardship, violence, or persecution. While these cities may spark debate and controversy, their role in promoting tolerance, understanding, and compassion cannot be denied. As we continue to navigate the complex landscape of immigration, sanctuary cities remain a testament to the power of unity and shared humanity, bridging borders and cultures in the process.