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Adapting 'Sanctuary Cities' to the Trump Era

Cities and immigration advocates are trying to figure out how to offer meaningful protection to undocumented immigrants.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says he's "still not sure" what a sanctuary city is.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says he's "still not sure" what a sanctuary city is.Patrick Fallon/Reuters

In the Trump era, a conversation is growing about what sanctuary cities are, what they are not, and also what they should become. If a city wants to offer meaningful protection to immigrants and non-citizens at risk of being deported, it may need to go further than what it takes to be called a sanctuary city.

It’s an ambiguous term, but one with real consequences. In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order seeking to punish jurisdictions identified by this label by withholding federal funds. San Francisco sued. And this week, nearly 300 legal experts sent a letter calling the order unconstitutional. As part of their argument, they take issue with the meaning of the phrase itself. “There is no single definition of what it means to be a sanctuary city,” Annie Lai, assistant clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine and one of the authors of the letter, said in a press release. “The term is often used to tarnish or celebrate—depending on the speaker—that cities, counties, and states have advanced policies to separate and distinguish themselves from federal immigration authorities.”