Resources: Sanctuary Cities

Pass a policy that supports immigrants in your community and ensures that local agencies don’t help deport people.

Cities and towns around the country are reacting to the Trump Administration’s racially-motivated and inhumane deportation plans by refusing to be coerced into collaborating in such efforts. Cities and towns cannot legally be forced to use their own resources to assist in the enforcement of immigration laws. They cannot be forced to turn over their own community members for deportation. They can, however, create policies that send a clear message: immigrants are welcome here and they should not fear their local government.

Whether you call it a Sanctuary City, a Welcoming Resolution, a Safe Community, or a Freedom City initiative, the following resources can help you advocate for good policies.


The Basics

Sample Sanctuary Policy

Talking Points on Sanctuary Cities

Explainer: what are ICE Detainers? (additional information available here)

General local advocacy tips


Is there evidence that sanctuary cities are good for communities?

The Effects of Sanctuary Policies on Crime and the Economy (Center for American Progress)

Searching for Sanctuary (Immigrant Legal Resource Center)


What are the legal issues around local collaboration with ICE?

A comprehensive law firm memo detailing the different legal issues related to sanctuary policies can be found here.

Guidance on local police participation in immigrant enforcement, issued by the New York Attorney General but applicable in other states.

Courts in our area have already ruled on the legal issues that surround ICE detainers. Here are the two main cases.

Morales v. Chadbourne — Federal Court decision about detainers

Moscoso v. East Boston Division — State court decisions about detainers

Single Justice Decision
Motion before the Single Justice

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is currently considering whether Massachusetts law allows local police to hold people on detainers. More information here


What is currently happening at the state level?

Legislation introduced this session would protect all Massachusetts residents by making sure local law enforcement do not enforce federal immigration law.

Massachusetts Safe Communities Act (S.1305)

Massachusetts Safe Communities Fact Sheet


What about Welcoming City ordinances?

On July 24, 2017 the highest court in Massachusetts ruled in Commonwealth v. Lunn that Massachusetts state and local officers are not authorized to detain a person at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) alone. A week later, Governor Baker filed a bill asking the state legislature to create the authority that the court said does not exist. Gov. Baker has said that this is no different from policies cities and towns around Massachusetts have adopted in recent years to protect immigrant residents. That is wrong.

While more than a dozen cities and towns in Massachusetts have passed policies designed to limit local involvement in immigration enforcement, Gov. Baker’s bill does the opposite: It seeks to create a way for police to help ICE deport people.

The Welcoming City ordinance passed by the Newton City Council is an example of a local ordinance that is different from Gov. Baker’s bill.

Here are the main differences.

  1. The fact that Gov. Baker’s bill was filed after the court’s decision in Lunn is one main difference. Previously, cities and towns struggled with the details of policies meant to draw a line between local policing and federal immigration enforcement. That line sometimes included holding people on ICE detainers in certain circumstances. Now that the court has stated that the law simply does not allow police to hold people on detainers, deliberately seeking out the legal authority to do so is an attempt to opt-in Massachusetts to join Trump’s deportation machine.
  2. The Newton Ordinance is consistent with the Lunn decision in that it expressly states that police will hold people on ICE detainers in certain circumstances “provided that the arrest or detention is based upon valid Massachusetts arrest authority…” (Section 2-403). The court held in Lunn that there is no valid Massachusetts arrest authority. The Newton ordinance anticipated this ruling by expressly ensuring that their police would be acting only when there was authority to do so under Massachusetts laws.
  3. The Newton ordinance also requires that any arrest on an ICE detainer be “consistent with the 4th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article XIV of the Massachusetts Constitution” (Section 2-403), something that is sorely absent from Gov. Baker’s bill, which, if passed, could be challenged in court on constitutional grounds.
  4. The Newton ordinance’s purpose is to “reaffirm .. the City’s commitment to fair treatment for all” and to make “all residents, workers and visitors feel safe and secure regardless of immigration status.” (Sec. 2-400). This purpose is completely at odds with Gov. Baker’s bill, which treats immigrants as a danger to our society.
  5. In many other ways, the Newton ordinance seeks to disentangle Newton from federal immigration enforcement. It prohibits the city from investigating, arresting, or detaining a person based solely on immigration status (Section 2-402), and prohibits officers from asking about immigration status unless required by law. (Section 2-404). Gov. Baker’s bill does none of these things, instead attempting to conscript Massachusetts law enforcement in service of Trump’s deportation efforts.


Can President Trump deny federal funding to Sanctuary Cities?

Law Professor Letter to President Trump Regarding Constitutionality of Executive Order on Sanctuary Cities (Immigrant Legal Justice Center)

Trump can’t force ‘sanctuary cities’ to enforce his deportation plans (Washington Post)

Sanctuary Cities Are Safe, Thanks to Conservatives (Bloomberg)

Chelsea and Lawrence filing to stop the federal government from denying funding based on Sanctuary status (Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice)

Letter from 61 law enforcement officials to Congress expressing concern about retaliation against sanctuary cities

Lawsuit brought by the city of San Francisco to stop the federal government from denying funds based on Sanctuary City status


What about churches and other houses of worship?

Sanctuary congregations and harboring FAQ

ICE memo relating to enforcement at “Sensitive Locations”


Additional recommended reading:

Here Are the Sanctuary Cities Ready to Resist Trump’s Deportation Threats (Mother Jones)

‘Sanctuary cities’ have the law on their side (Boston Globe)

Congressional letter to President Trump

National Immigration Law Center’s Toolkit

The Government Is Trying to Name and Shame Local and State Police Departments That Won’t Do Their Bidding (ACLU)

California Chief Judge asks ICE not to “stalk” courthouses to arrest immigrants (California Courts)

The states’ rights that Trump doesn’t like (Washington Post)

“Detained” (NPR’s Latino USA)

Local Immigration Enforcement and Arrests of the Hispanic Population (Center for Migration Studies)


For more information about how the ACLU of Massachusetts is defending immigrants’ rights, click here.

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