Numerous jurisdictions in Illinois have declared themselves “sanctuary counties” for gun owners, co-opting the immigration term to push back against possible attempts by the state to pass gun restrictions. Not surprisingly, the move is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what sanctuary cities actually do.
Aiming to set themselves apart from sanctuary cities like Chicago, five rural Illinois counties passed resolutions recently making the designation, signaling to the state legislature that restrictive gun laws — like those imposing age limits for purchasing certain weapons, banning bump stocks, and imposing size limits for gun magazines — will not be tolerated in those counties.
“It’s a buzzword, a word that really gets attention. With all these sanctuary cities, we just decided to turn it around to protect our Second Amendment rights,” said David Campbell, vice chairman of the Effingham County Board, according to the Associated Press.
Bryan Kibler: "We're taking a stand and we're making it known to the Illinois General Assembly that if they keep on this path of stripping away Second Amendment rights, there's going to be blowback from the people of southern Illinois." pic.twitter.com/PjimYvrPHK
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 19, 2018
But that’s not how sanctuary jurisdictions work.
Cities, states, and jurisdictions with “sanctuary” status have informal policies and laws in place to limit the cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. And the law grants states the right to do this. Under the Tenth Amendment, state governments are not required to enforce federal law, meaning local law enforcement officials do not have to assist the federal government in identifying and detaining immigrants. The Supreme Court has upheld this interpretation multiple times.
“[S]ince immigration law is federal law, it makes sense that catching unauthorized immigrants might not be a local law enforcement priority. After all, local police don’t go out of their way to enforce tax law either,” wrote Vox’s Dara Lind.
That’s what makes the appropriation of “sanctuary” in opposing gun laws so ridiculous. Effingham County prosecutor Bryan Kibler, who came up with the idea, drew the false comparison when he said, according to the AP, that if the state passed such restrictions, “we might not pay attention to it.”
The scenario Kibler describes amounts to breaking the law. It also reveals a lack of insight into current law, which dictates that states are well within their rights in choosing not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Kibler’s idea also fails to consider the benefit of sanctuary status — not just in protecting undocumented immigrants, but also in ensuring the safety of the general public. Many police departments choose not to enforce immigration law because doing so could make immigrants more distrustful of police officers and less likely to report crimes — even if they are the victims. Flagrantly violating state gun restrictions, on the other hand, is contrary to public safety. As data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, states with more gun laws experience fewer gun-related deaths.
Sanctuary policies vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In Chicago, for instance, local law enforcement officials are prohibited from sharing information about the citizenship or immigration status of any individual in their custody. Sanctuary law in California, which became the first sanctuary state last year, includes banning local law enforcement from notifying immigration authorities when detainees are released from police custody.
Still, sanctuary status is not a guarantee against deportation. While a city can choose not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, it cannot stop the government from deporting immigrants.
Despite the Trump administration’s frequent criticism of sanctuary cities and the president’s claim that undocumented immigrants are flooding the country, deportations and arrests have actually risen over the years. Deportations increased significantly under the Obama administration, and the number of immigration-related arrests has jumped 25 percent since 2016.