Russell Hebets Feb. 9, 2017

Immigration is a hot topic these days and several cities, including Denver, have made the news for being sanctuary cities. The debate revolves around whether cities who protect undocumented people from immigration enforcement should continue to receive support from the federal government. New President Donald Trump opposes sanctuary cities and believes they are hotbeds of crime. However, mayors of these cities deny this claim and say they will not stop offering sanctuary.

What is a Sanctuary City?

There is no official definition to be classified as a sanctuary city, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) generally states it is a city which will not turn over undocumented immigrants to ICE for deportation. ICE is prompted to initiate deportation when someone has committed a crime or it otherwise comes to their attention that the person is undocumented.  There are approximately 300 cities or counties across the country considered sanctuary.

Is Denver a Sanctuary City?

Denver’s status as a sanctuary city has been somewhat unclear. Mayor Hancock has denied being a sanctuary city but at the same time, he has made statements that support immigrants and claim the city will protect them. Further, Denver typically does not turn over immigrants to ICE, which reinforces the city’s reputation as sanctuary. It also does not encourage police to inquire about a suspect’s immigration status.

When an undocumented individual comes to the attention of ICE, then ICE may request a 48 hour hold. If the person has already been detained on another matter, ICE will ask for an additional 48 hours in order to process those people and potentially take them into custody. However, Denver and other cities considered sanctuary usually refuse to pick people up for ICE or to extend a detention for ICE.

This act of refusing the extended hold is called declined detention. Since usually there are no warrants associated with the hold request, it is not illegal for Denver to decline the holds. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the individual has committed a serious enough crime to require such an extended hold. However, ICE does keep track of the cities that practice declined detention and how often they do it and this becomes part of the profile for a sanctuary city. Currently Denver ranks 10thfor declined detentions, making it a target for ICE.

Why the Concern?

Some argue however that there is a real danger in protecting undocumented immigrants. They worry about crime and cite a specific incident where an undocumented man murdered a young woman in San Francisco; and they worry about the economic costs of dealing with the undocumented.

In the next two parts of our discussion, we will look at the pros and cons of being a sanctuary city in relation to crime and costs.