In most cases, cities in the United States with sanctuary policies do not comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests to continue detaining undocumented immigrants who have been arrested by local police for unrelated reasons. Cities and counties are able to refuse such requests because under the Immigration and Nationality Act, persons who reside in the United States without proper authorization – illegally entering or overstaying a visa – are regarded as a civil issue, whereas persons who enter without inspection (EWI) or have willfully disregarded a removal order are considered as a criminal offence. Only when a federal criminal investigation is underway do cities and counties, even those with sanctuary policies, have to comply with ICE detainer requests.¹

Source: Washington Post. Click to enlarge.

In Canada, a similar process occurs. Under subsection 4(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship is responsible for administering the act. However, under subsection 4(2), the act states the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is responsible for the enforcement of the act. The agency whose responsibility this falls to is the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The Inland Enforcement Division, similar to ICE, carries out investigations of foreign nationals and permanent residents within Canada who are believed to have committed a deportable offence. Much like ICE detainer requests, the CBSA relies on their relationships with local police to enforce the IRPA. A report compiled in 2015 by No One is Illegal – Toronto found that:

“[The Toronto Police Service] is the most frequent user of the CBSA’s Warrant Response System. Described as ‘an important component in effecting removal orders’ by the CBSA, the call centre is available 24 hours/day, 7 days/week to law enforcement officers who want to inquire whether an immigration warrant exists against a particular individual. In the period for which we have obtained data (part of 2014 and 2015), the TPS is responsible for 31% of all calls made by all law enforcement and transit agencies across the country. The TPS inquired more often than the RCMP, and more often than the police services of Montreal, Quebec City, Calgary and Vancouver combined.”
No One is Illegal – Toronto

After much controversy over the death of Lucia Vega Jimenez, who was caught in 2013 for riding the transit system without paying her fare and subsequently held in a CBSA detention facility, the Metro Vancouver Transit Police ended its collaboration with the CBSA in 2015. A previous Memorandum of Understanding formalized a working relationship between the provincial police authority and federal enforcement agency to liaise with each other on immigration investigations. The metric to determine this relationship’s success was “the number of reports or arrests under the IRPA that are initiated by the CBSA Enforcement Officer or PREC [Pacific Region Enforcement Centre of the CBSA] as a result of this program” (p. 2).

Despite both Vancouver and Toronto eventually adopting sanctuary city policies, it is clear jurisdictional issues related to how immigration violations are enforced in Canada impact the future efficacy of sanctuary cities.

The states and large cities listed below represent only a fraction of municipalities that have made formal and informal advances to designate themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. Since there is no standard for what constitutes a sanctuary city, a broad spectrum of patchwork policies have emerged. This has ranged from tacit acknowledgements that cities support undocumented immigrants, to cities who have passed explicit ordinances, bylaws, or resolutions which restrict public officials from inquiring about immigration status. In response to President Trump’s Executive Order on sanctuary cities, Cities for Action, a coalition of large city mayors in the United States, issued a statement reaffirming support for undocumented immigrants.


Cities  Position
 Hamilton, ON
  • 2014 Sanctuary City policy adopted by City Council
    • 2014 Staff Report recommending sanctuary city policies be implemented
 London, ON
  • 2017 motion passed by City Council to consult with stakeholders about making London a Sanctuary City
 Montréal, QC
  • 2017 Sanctuary City motion unanimously approved by City Council [French only]
  • 2017 le conseil municipal a désignée Montréal une ville sanctuaire
 Toronto, ON
  • 2013 “Access T.O.” policy adopted by City Council
    • 2017 Mayor Tory reaffirms Toronto as an inclusive sanctuary city
    • 2015 Staff Report by Toronto Police Board for Council on current practices
    • 2014 Staff Report for Council on progress
    • 2010 Toronto Police Services Board reaffirms its “Don’t Ask” policy for victims and witnesses
    • 2006 TPSB recommends “Don’t Ask” policy
 Vancouver, BC
  • 2016 “Access Without Fear” adopted by City Council, Park Board, and School Board
    • 2017 Mayor Robertson reaffirms Vancouver’s “Access Without Fear” policy
    • 2016 Staff Report for Council with recommendations and framework
    • 2016 Staff Report for Park Board with recommendations and framework
    • 2016 Staff Report for School Board with recommendations and framework
    • 2016 Vancouver Police Board defer decision on “Access Without Fear” policy
  • 2017 The Vancouver Police confirmed they are currently developing the policy

United States of America

State  Position
  • State-wide legislation currently being drafted
  • None of California’s 58 counties comply with ICE detainer requests
    • 2017 State Speaker Rendon reaffirms commitment to sanctuary policies
    • 2014 “California Trust Act” limits police involvement with ICE detainer requests
    • 2014 Former California Attorney General Harris summarizes conditions for complying with ICE detainer requests
  • 2013 State-wide legislation in place which allows state and local law enforcement to ignore ICE detainer requests
  •  2016 Montana Supreme Court unanimously struck down anti-immigration law and prohibits state officials from reporting the immigration status of people seeking state services
  •  1987 Statute which prohibits state law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration laws
    • 2016 Two Republican state representatives attempted to make repealing the 1987 statute a ballot-box issue in 2018, but were rejected by the Oregon Department of Justice
    • 2015 Chapter 181A., Sections 820-830 reaffirms sanctuary policy limiting cooperation between local state law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement agencies
 Rhode Island
  • 2011 Governor Chafee repeals previous governor’s anti-immigration order and instead prohibits state officials from inquiring about immigration status, as well as state police to withdraw MOU with ICE
  •  No state-wide policy in place yet
    • 2016 Vermont House legislators sign joint resolution commending Vermont counties who have sanctuary policies, and will be voted upon
    • 2016 all state agencies and constables required to adopt “Fair and Impartial Policing Policy”
Large Cities  Position
 Austin, TX
  • 2014 Resolution adopted opposing ICE detainer requests
  • State updating bill to restrict sanctuary cities
 Aurora, CO
  • No formal policy in place, but City does not inquire about immigration status
    • 2016 Aurora Police issue statement confirming non-enforcement policy
 Baltimore, MD
  • No formal policy in place, but does not inquire about immigration status
    • 2017 Mayor Pugh reaffirms commitment to non-inquiry approach
    • Cannot be a sanctuary city because city relinquished control over detention facilities to the state, and state complies with detainer requests
 Boston, MA
  • 2014 Ordinance “The Boston Trust Act” passed by Council
    • 2016 Resolution reaffirming “The Boston Trust Act” passed in light of Governor Baker’s decision to comply with detainer requests
 Chicago, IL
  •  1985 Executive Order on access to city services for undocumented immigrants
    • 2016 Mayor Emanuel reaffirms Chicago’s sanctuary city status
    • 2016 City Council passes amendment to “Welcoming City Ordinance” which also applies to the Chicago Police Department
    • 2012 City Council passes “Welcoming City Ordinance”
 Los Angeles, CA
  • 2017 Mayor Garcetti reaffirms Los Angeles will not comply with ‘unconstitutional’ detainer requests
    • 2016 Mayor Garcetti announces $10 million fund to help immigrants facing deportation who cannot afford a lawyer
    • 2014 Mayor Garcetti announces Los Angeles will not honour ICE detainer requests
    • 2014 Los Angeles Police Department confirm they will not comply with ICE detainer requests on two conditions
 Minneapolis, MN
 New York City, NY
 San Francisco, CA
 Seattle, WA
  • 2003 Ordinance prohibiting local police from inquiring about immigration status
    • 2017 Mayor Murray reaffirms Seattle’s sanctuary policies
    • 2016 Seattle Police Chief O’Toole reaffirms department’s sanctuary policies
    • 2011 Seattle Police policy on immigration enforcement

Municipal ID Cards

sf_city-id-card_sampleA growing number of American municipalities have created or have instructed staff to explore providing municipal identification cards for residents, such as San FranciscoChicago, and New York. Although cities with sanctuary policies have made it clear to staff that they must provide services regardless of a resident’s immigration status, this is not always the case. Advocates therefore argue that municipal ID cards would “make it easier for undocumented immigrants to rent an apartment, open a bank account, interact with police or anything else that can be difficult without proper identification.”

The City of Toronto has considered implementing municipal ID cards. In 2014 though, a Staff Report outlined reasons against moving forward with municipal ID cards. Staff noted that legal restrictions like the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) would require publishing a “full description of a municipal identification card database [that] would have to be publicly transparent in the Directory of Records on the City’s website.” Staff also noted ambiguity around information-sharing with provincial and federal governments.

As a result, staff recommended that the City of Toronto not move forward with this project.

¹ Ridgley, J. (2008). Cities of Refuge: Immigration Enforcement, Police, and the Insurgent Genealogies of Citizenship in U.S. Sanctuary Cities. Urban Geography, 29(1), 53–77.