“Sanctuary is rooted in the imperative shared across faith traditions to protect society’s most vulnerable. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the commandment to “welcome the stranger” appears over thirty times. In the New Testament, Jesus encourages his followers to “welcome the stranger.” In Islam, the teachings of the Quran encourage protecting strangers seeking refuge.”


A “sanctuary city” only means that there are some policies in place to limit cooperation between local police and federal immigration officials (ICE), to protect basic human and civil rights of all DC residents.

In DC, police officers should not ask anyone about their immigration status, and they should not detain any noncitizen at the request of ICE, unless the person is convicted of a serious crime and ICE has agreed, in writing, to reimburse the District for the cost of holding the person in detention. However, because there are some loopholes in our sanctuary policy and because there are so many federal agencies in DC that are not obligated to follow it, many immigrant DC residents – documented and undocumented – are being unlawfully deported.

In addition, as many immigrant-led organizations and advocacy groups have argued for years, the criminalization of immigrants and communities of color invalidates the “felons not families” narrative that past presidents have adopted on immigration. Deportation harms families, communities, and public health and safety, no matter who is targeted. We are concerned that this kind of unchecked law enforcement action will increase.

We want DC to be a sanctuary city for all of its residents and to take active steps to protect the most vulnerable and targeted communities. A sanctuary city should not comply with destructive immigration and registration policies. Instead, it should actively and politically protect its most vulnerable populations, including those who are immigrants, undocumented, indigenous, Black, Muslim, Latinx, womyn, and LGBTQ+.


The network of religious congregations that became known as the Sanctuary Movement started with a Presbyterian church and a Quaker meeting in Tucson, Arizona. These two congregations began legal and humanitarian assistance to Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees.


Rev. John Fife of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson announced that his church would openly defy INS and become a “sanctuary” for Central Americans. The Arizona congregations were soon joined by networks of religious congregations and activists in Northern California, South Texas, and Chicago.

MID 1980S

At the Sanctuary Movement’s height, over 150 congregations openly defied the government, publicly sponsoring and supporting undocumented Salvadoran or Guatemalan refugee families. Sanctuary workers coordinated with activists in Mexico to smuggle Salvadorans and Guatemalans over the border and across the country. Assistance provided to refugees included bail and legal representation, as well as food, medical care, and employment.


The Department of Justice initiated criminal prosecutions against two activists in Texas in 1984, followed by a 71-count criminal conspiracy indictment against 16 U.S. and Mexican religious activists announced in Arizona in January 1985. The Texas trials resulted in split verdicts, one conviction and one acquittal.


The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh on behalf of eight religious organizations against the U.S. Attorney General and the head of the INS. The lawsuit charged U.S. government officials with interfering with the First Amendment religious rights of sanctuary workers, and sought a court declaration that sanctuary is legal under international law and the 1980 Refugee Act.


San Francisco becomes the first city to establish itself as a “city and county of refuge” for immigrants of all nations. It also was the first major American city to issue identification cards and pass a city ordinance explicitly forbidding local police from assisting in the enforcement of federal immigration law.


The attorneys on both sides of American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh agreed to settle the case outside of court. The settlement, commonly known as the “ABC Settlement Agreement,” provided some immigration benefits for certain Guatemalans and Salvadorans.


The 104th U.S. Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which requires local governments to cooperate with Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency.  However, cities that have adopted sanctuary policies, limit the extent to which a city’s law enforcement can cooperate with ICE.


Mayor Vincent Gray (2011-2015) makes Washington, DC a sanctuary city.


Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico was accused of shooting and killing Kathryn Steinle, a San Francisco resident. His presence in San Francisco, a sanctuary city, sparked a national debate about Sanctuary Cities.


Donald Trump is elected President, and vows to cancel all funding to Sanctuary Cities within his first 100 days in office.


  1. Gzesh, S. (2006). “Central Americans and Asylum Policy in the Reagan Era.” Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/central-americans-and-asylum-policy-reagan-era/
  2. “American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh” Center for Constitutional Rights. Retrieved from: https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/our-cases/american-baptist-churches-v-thornburgh
  3. “American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh (ABC) Settlement Agreement.” USCIS Retrieved from: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum/american-baptist-churches-v-thornburgh-abc-settlement-agreement
  4. (2015). “The Risk of Sanctuary Cities.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/no-free-lunch-the-risks-of-sanctuary-cities/2015/07/22/35748a72-308d-11e5-8353-1215475949f4_story.html?utm_term=.e8b82c400cd4
  5. (2011). “San Francisco, U.S.’s first sanctuary city, faces roadblock.” Political News. Retrieved from: http://archive.azcentral.com/news/election/azelections/articles/2011/04/10/20110410sanctuary-san-francisco-immigrants.html
  6. (2016). “Here Is What Donald Trump Wants To Do In His First 100 Days.” NPR. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/2016/11/09/501451368/here-is-what-donald-trump-wants-to-do-in-his-first-100-days