By: A.J. Privitt

  1. Proposition 205 – The Tucson Families Free and Together Initiative

A sanctuary city is a city that “has limited the extent to which it will volunteer resources in support of federal immigration enforcement agents’ responsibility to enforce federal immigration law.”[1] Recently, in 2019, the city of Tucson voted no on becoming a sanctuary city[2]. Sanctuary cities began in Tucson in 1982 when Presbyterian minister used his church to take in refugees fleeing from South America.[3] Over the years the movement spread to hundreds of churches[4] and eventually Madison Wisconsin became the first sanctuary city in 1985[5]. Despite the spread of sanctuary cities since then, there has been a lot of misleading political rhetoric spreading misconceptions about sanctuary cities.

President Trump has a different definition of sanctuary cities. Last week, during his state of the union address, President Trump defined sanctuary cities as where “local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public”.[6] Last year at the IACP 2019, President Trump said that “the most dangerous and shameful attacks on the rule of law comes from and in the form of sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities order jails and prisons to release criminal aliens, people that have committed the worst crimes directly back onto city streets instead of safely turning them over to federal immigration authorities and ICE so they can be incarcerated or tried or what I like to do best [] get ‘em the hell out of our country.”[7]


  1. What is a sanctuary city?

When a police officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, they can arrest that individual and detain them until it is determined whether there was enough evidence to charge that person with a crime.[8] (Note that even if that person is charged, it does not mean that person actually committed a crime because the state must still prove that the person committed the crime by getting a conviction in a trial.) Before the person is even charged, the federal government could ask the state to send the person’s fingerprint data to validate whether that person is an undocumented immigrant.[9] However, the Constitution protects States from the federal government forcing states to enforce federal law. So the state or city could legally choose to ignore this federal request.[10]

Merely remaining in the country while undocumented is not a crime. It is a civil offense similar to a traffic ticket.[11] Contrary to what President Donald Trump seems to believe, a sanctuary city is not a city that releases criminals directly onto city streets nor is it a city that affords more rights to undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants, like all other humans in the United States, have rights under the Constitution.[12] A sanctuary city is a city that chooses to ignore federal requests to detain suspected undocumented immigrants for longer than other persons.[13] When law enforcement decides it no longer needs custody over the person for the crime charged, it releases them.[14] Otherwise, before releasing the individual, the state would work with the federal government to verify whether he or she is undocumented and hold the person until appropriate action is take.

It does not release someone who has committed a dangerous crime, it merely does not hold the person longer than normal to assist the federal government investigate immigration status and deportation.[15] It is not dangerous for states and cities to do so when the person did not commit a dangerous crime and it is a state’s legal right to do so.[16]


III. Conclusion

It can be difficult to discern what to believe regarding sanctuary cities especially when people in power use their platform to spread misinformation to propel partisan agendas. Next time a proposition regarding a sanctuary city is on the ballot, it is important to understand the actual process the proposition addresses. To many it may not affect much but to many in Arizona and throughout the country their very life hangs in the balance.


[1] Naomi Tsu, Teaching Tolerance, (last visited Feb. 15, 2020).


[2] Jacey Fortin and Emily Rueb, Tucson Rejects Sanctuary Status as Places Across U.S. Vote on Their Futures, The New York Times (Nov. 6, 2019),


[3] Loren Collingwood and Gabriel Martinez, Hiding from the Heat: Why Tuscon Failed to Become a Sanctuary City (Jan. 9, 2020),


[4] Daniel Burke, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America just became the country’s first ‘sanctuary church body’, CNN (Aug. 8, 2019, 1:52 PM),


[5] Collingwood and Martinez, supra note 3.


[6] ABC News, Trump discusses securing the southern border l SOTU 2020 l ABC News, YouTube, (last visited Feb. 15, 2020).


[7] CBS News, Trump calls sanctuary cities a “dangerous and shameful” violation of rule of law, YouTube, (last visited Feb. 15, 2020).


[8] America’s Voice, (last visited Oct. 9, 2019).


[9] Tsu, supra note 1.


[10] Tsu, supra note 1.


[11] America’s Voice, supra note 8.


[12] America’s Voice, supra note 8.


[13] Tsu, supra note 1.


[14] Tsu, supra note 1.


[15] Tsu, supra note 1.


[16] Tsu, supra note 1.