Houston Matters

What Exactly are “Sanctuary Cities,” and is Houston One?

A term has risen in the more recent debates about immigration: “sanctuary cities.” The concept is this: that there are some cities in the United States that will go out of their way to protect immigrants who have entered the country illegally from federal immigration officials. The argument from some conservatives and anti-immigration groups is […]

A term has risen in the more recent debates about immigration: “sanctuary cities.” The concept is this: that there are some cities in the United States that will go out of their way to protect immigrants who have entered the country illegally from federal immigration officials. The argument from some conservatives and anti-immigration groups is that these cities are ducking federal immigration law. It’s why the U.S. House of Representatives voted recently to cut funding to such municipalities (the U.S. Senate has not followed suit, to date), and why Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has indicated plans to try to pass a law banning them in Texas during the 2017 legislative session.

The counter-argument from liberal-leaning and pro-immigration groups is that so-called “sanctuary cities” aren’t really what those opposed to them say or think they are, that there are a variety of municipalities across the country with ordinances barring immigration officials from seeking the immigration status of someone who, say, receives a traffic ticket, or gets arrested for a misdemeanor. Or that bar local authorities from calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under suspicion about a person’s immigration status. Or that leave it to local authorities’ discretion. They also argue conservatives are trying to steer the debate towards these municipalities and away from more aggressive prosecution of employers who hire undocumented workers.

But when a more heinous crime is committed, and the suspect ends up being someone who entered the United States illegally, it stokes the flames of opposition to such ordinances, whether they would have made a difference or not. (One such case took place back in July in San Francisco, when 31 year old Kate Steinle was allegedly murdered by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who entered the country illegally).

We talk with Texas Tribune reporter Julián Aguilar about the political weight behind the term “sanctuary city,” and whether Houston is considered as such a city.

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