The border of the United States is pocketed with sanctuary cities: Areas where undocumented immigrants can live without fearing that local law enforcement will report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These sanctuaries came under a big debate after a young woman was fatally shot in San Francisco by a man who was in the U.S. undocumented. He was a seven-time felon and had already been deported five times. But critics say that the situation could have been avoided if the San Francisco authorities had notified ICE of the man’s release from jail.
Jonathan Tilove is the chief political writer with the Austin American-Statesman and has been covering sanctuary cities in Texas.
Tilove doesn’t believe there’s a community in Texas that describes itself as a sanctuary city. In fact, Travis County has one of the highest deportation rates in the state because “once you go to the Travis County jail, you’re fingerprinted and those fingerprints are sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” In San Francisco, no public money can be used to assist immigration enforcement, Tilove says.
Many Republicans are against sanctuary cities, and have taken measures to do away with them. In Texas, though, there is no legal definition of a sanctuary city. And it can be difficult to ban something that legally doesn’t exist, Tilove says.
In 2011, Rick Perry tried to do it: He made getting rid of sanctuary cities an emergency item, but it didn’t get through in the regular session or in a special session. Even though the overwhelming majority of Republicans supported the bill, it likely didn’t go through because “Perry liked it as an issue more than he did as legislation, because legislation would incur to the wrath of both Hispanics community who Republicans are trying to reach out to and the business community, which depends on undocumented workers,” Tilove says.
Sanctuary cities are becoming a political issue for Democrats too, especially after the incident in San Francisco. In a community where people feel at risk of being deported when they report a crime, seek assistance or want to testify in a case, it makes it difficult to turn to law enforcement. Sanctuary cities solve that problem, but it gets more complicated in situations like the one in San Francisco, Tilove says.