What is a “Sanctuary City” and Why Does it Matter?

“Sanctuary city” is an informal term used to describe cities or jurisdictions where local law enforcement does not cooperate with federal immigration authorities regarding the enforcement of civil immigration laws.  The majority of the controversy with sanctuary cities centers around federal government Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) detainers requesting local law enforcement to hold individuals suspected of civil immigration violations until ICE can take them into custody.  The issue with these requests is that ICE detainers are not typically backed by a warrant signed by a judge, thus creating due process concerns.  Therefore, law enforcement in a “sanctuary city” does not comply with these ICE detainers.  Most sanctuary cities will hold an individual for ICE only if the detainer is backed by a court order or warrant.

In addition, law enforcement in sanctuary cities will not investigate whether a person has valid immigration status.  The immigration status of a person is a civil matter, and law enforcement in sanctuary cities will only investigate criminal matters.

There have been several attempts by the federal government to get sanctuary cities to comply with ICE detainers and checking immigration status—including the issuance of threats to withhold large amounts of federal funding until cities comply.  In attempts to get cities to comply, recent legislative actions have sought to penalize cities that do not comply with the demands of ICE.  However, courts have been upholding state’s rights to act on their own behalf.

Sanctuary cities include several of the largest cities in the United States and in Iowa.  Sanctuary cities include Los Angeles, California; San Diego, California, New York City, New York; Washington, D.C.; and, Denver, Colorado, to name a few.  Cities and counties in Iowa include Iowa City, Jefferson County, Benton County (Vinton), and Iowa County (Marengo).

Do You Need Help?

Immigration attorney Raphael M. Scheetz represents immigrants and prospective immigrants across the state of Iowa. If your immigration status is in question, it is critical that you act swiftly to ensure you are operating within the law of the United States.  It is never a good idea to avoid necessary immigration processes or filings. For experienced and effective representation contact the Law Office of Raphael M. Scheetz today.


I was so lucky that Mr. Scheetz was my Immigration Lawyer. Everything seemed to turn from black to white after meeting with him. His immediate attention and action were extremely impressive. Thank you!

– Gina B.

I am so grateful for what Mr. Scheetz did for my cousin William J., he saved his life. And also he proved me wrong. My family and I are eternally thankful for all his efforts.

– Mike N.