If you follow immigration news, you’ve probably seen the term “sanctuary state” popping up in headlines. An estimated 564 U.S. jurisdictions, including states and municipalities, are now considered sanctuaries, protecting immigrants from deportation through refusal to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
What is a Sanctuary State?
You may have heard the term “sanctuary city” before. If so, a sanctuary state is the same concept: a state that does not fully comply with federal efforts to deport illegal immigrants. “But wait,” you might be thinking. “Isn’t immigration the jurisdiction of the federal government?” Although immigration is federal law, the U.S. government depends on local law enforcement to identify and detain unauthorized immigrants.
Here’s how the partnership is supposed to work. When local police comply with federal mandates, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials will pick up illegal immigrants who are being held in local jails. But when police resist, the region gets branded as a “sanctuary.” Although this is not a legal term, its meaning is widely understood: an area where immigrants can breathe a little easier.
Don’t Police Have to do What the Feds Say?
Local police officers are by no means required to help out with enforcing federal immigration policy. In fact, the 10th Amendment to the Constitution states that the federal government only has the powers that are specifically granted to it in the Constitution, and all other rights go to the states and the people.
Exercising that right to choose could have a big impact on crime. Some officers argue that arresting immigrants actually makes it harder to fight local crime. That’s because when immigrants are afraid of the police, they are less likely to come forward to report crimes or cooperate in investigations. Since the 2016 election, reports of violent crimes in some immigrant communities have dropped by as much as half, because immigrants are too scared to call the police.
Is Illinois a Sanctuary State?
In 2017, Illinois passed the Trust Act, a bipartisan law with widespread support from state police. The Illinois Trust Act prohibits police from detaining immigrants on behalf of ICE and from questioning people about their immigration status. Backers of the Act believe that it will make communities safer by giving immigrants confidence that they can rely on the police without fear of deportation.
But is it legal? Federal statute 8 USC § 1373 prohibits state and local governments from passing laws that would restrict communication with the Department of Homeland Security about the immigration or citizenship status of residents. The Illinois Trust Act does not restrict this communication, so it does not violate federal law.
Does the Illinois Trust Act make Illinois a sanctuary state? Although it’s up for debate, many will say “absolutely.” This means Illinois joins California, New York, the District of Columbia, and numerous cities and counties across the U.S. that are considered sanctuaries for immigrants. When signing the legislation, Governor Rauner said, “Illinois has been welcoming of immigrants for a long time, and this bill will continue that tradition.”
In America’s current political climate, sanctuary states are a controversial topic. For undocumented immigrants, however, they are a safe haven. After all, without protections in place, something as common as a traffic violation could put an immigrant on the path to deportation.
According to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), the Trust Act is “the gold standard for statewide protections against deportation” and provides “an unprecedented level of protection for Illinois’ half-million undocumented residents.”
Have Immigration Questions? Talk to a Lawyer Who Understands
At Schierer & Ritchie, our Peoria attorneys understand the immigration process inside and out and can help you achieve your dreams—whether that’s getting your green card, obtaining United States citizenship, or bringing your family members to America. For a trusted guide on your immigration journey, call Schierer & Ritchie today. We offer a free consultation and are available 24/7 to assist you.