What is a Sanctuary City?

A woman holds a sign in Copley Square during a protest against President Donald Trump's Muslim immigration ban on Jan. 29, 2017. Photo by Lejla Brackovic/BU News Service

By Cynthia Fernandez
BU News Service
The U.S. Justice Department sent letters to at least eight jurisdictions Friday stating they would need to submit proof they are complying with federal immigration law in order to continue to receive federal grants funding.  The jurisdictions receiving these letters have dubbed themselves “sanctuary cities,” or, in California’s case, a “sanctuary state.”

What is a sanctuary city?

A sanctuary city is an officially undefined term, but usually means that local police do not need to participate in the civil immigration detainer program.

What does that mean for Boston?

In late January, Mayor Walsh held a press conference in the Eagle room at City Hall and reacted to the president’s remarks about the deportation of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

“The latest executive orders and statements by the president about immigrants are a direct attack on Boston’s people… We are a city and a nation built on immigrant contribution … 28 percent of the residents of the city of Boston are immigrants … 48 percent are children who, like myself, have at least one foreign-born parent,” said Mayor Walsh.

He also stated that he will not waste vital police forces on “misguided federal actions.” The ICE, or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is a law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security who often are responsible for the detainment, investigation, and deportation of undocumented persons. Local police will no longer have to work with ICE agents to find and detain undocumented persons.

Shortly after the Major spoke, Michelle Wu, president of the Boston City Council referenced the Boston Trust Act, which “provides opportunity and access to immigrants, and honors the essential role immigrants play in moving Boston forward,” which was originally passed in 2014 and was proposed by Counselor Josh Zakim,

The act states that police will no longer need to participate in the civil immigration detainer program.

For someone to be released from a detainer request, the person must have reached the following qualifications: all criminal charges dropped or dismissed; criminal charges acquitted; served time for the sentence; posted bond or been released based on his or her recognizance; referred to pretrial division services; sentenced to an alternate incarceration; and is eligible for release under local law.

Have any cities in the Greater Boston area done the same?

Other cities near Boston have also called themselves sanctuary cities.

The city of Somerville has called itself a sanctuary city since 1987. Their status as a sanctuary city means that the police officers “will not profile our residents to run immigration checks on them,” but will also not harbor violent criminals.

The city of Cambridge has been a sanctuary city since 1985, when the City Council moved to protect refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Haiti. The law was expanded in 1996 to protect all residents, regardless of immigration status.

“As Mayor and City Manager of Cambridge, we remain committed to the City’s Sanctuary City status and the services and support that we provide to the Cambridge Community,” said Mayor E. Denise Simmons and City Manager Lois A. DePasquale in a joint statement this past November.

The city supports its immigrant population by funding programs like the Commission on Immigrant Rights and the Cambridge Community Center, among others.

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