Special Report

America's Largest Sanctuaries

Trying to determine the number of sanctuary cities is tricky, a problem the Department of Homeland Security faced earlier this year. The federal agency tried to create a list of sanctuary cities in an effort to target those municipalities it believed were not cooperating with federal authorities to deport undocumented immigrants. The DHS suspended its sanctuary city report in April after some jurisdictions objected when they were included on the list.

Sanctuary city opponents claim these jurisdictions allow criminals among undocumented immigrants to go free, leading to crimes that could have been prevented if the undocumented immigrants had been deported. Opponents also say undocumented immigrants put financial burdens on towns and drive down wages.

Those who support sanctuary communities say they protect families from being broken up by deportations of undocumented immigrants. Supporters also maintain that deporting undocumented immigrants alienates legal immigrant communities.

The undocumented population includes those who entered the country legally but overstayed the terms of their temporary visit. Being illegally present in the United States has always been a civil, not criminal, violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act. However, someone who enters the country illegally and re-enters after being removed or falsifies documents to enter the country are all punishable crimes.

Even though immigration was one of President Donald Trump major issues when he ran for president, undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities were already hot-button topics. Deportation policies that begun under the President Barack Obama’s administration were supposed to target hardened criminals but led mostly to the expulsion of those who committed minor infractions such as traffic violations. Deportation was a controversial issue also during the Obama administration.

The issue moved to the forefront of the national debate five days after Trump was sworn in as president when he signed an executive order to block federal funding to sanctuary cities. In late June, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would deny federal grants to sanctuary cities. Some sanctuary communities are fighting back. On Aug. 7, Chicago sued the federal government over what it claims are illegal attempts to withhold public safety grants from sanctuary cities.

24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of the biggest U.S. cities or districts called sanctuary cities. There is no agreed upon definition for a sanctuary city and it is not a legal term. Also, the number of communities called sanctuary cities varies. Some jurisdictions have outlined specific policies related to their status as a sanctuary locale, while others merely call themselves a sanctuary city or county without providing detailed criteria. The term has been used to describe those places — cities, counties, and jurisdictions such as jails — that limit how local law enforcement can work with federal agents in enforcing immigration laws. Because the jails where undocumented immigrants are held before they are deported are typically run by counties rather than cities, county policies can matter more regarding the issue, and that is why counties dominate the list.