The phrase "sanctuary cities" misleadingly suggests that immigrants without papers...

The phrase "sanctuary cities" misleadingly suggests that immigrants without papers can move to New York City, above, San Francisco or Los Angeles and arrogate the rights of citizens. Credit: / Kevin P. Coughlin

There are no true sanctuary cities in America, despite the term's frequent use on all sides of the immigration uproar.

The phrase misleadingly suggests that migrants without documents can move to places such as New York City, San Francisco or Los Angeles and freely arrogate the rights of citizens without fear of deportation. 

Certain cities, states and other local governments do force Immigration and Customs Enforcement to jump through bureaucratic hoops to boost their roundup rates. New York City, for example, makes ICE agents get a judge's order when they seek to pick up somebody held in jail on criminal charges.

The pro-crackdown Center for Immigration Studies says local governments may for example keep their agencies from complying with ICE detainers, prevent detainers from being accepted or deny federal officials' access to interview inmates.

But that red tape creates something far short of an airtight sanctuary.

In December, ICE figures showed New York area arrests were up 35 percent over the previous year, for a total 3,476. About 64 defendants had criminal records, proportional to national trends, The Gothamist website reported. 

In February, the city's comptroller, Scott Stringer, said the number of people without criminal convictions deported from the five boroughs jumped to 1,144 during Trump's first full fiscal year in office, versus 313 in the final year of Barack Obama's presidency

Calling New York and otherst sanctuary cities can overstate the power of these municipal governments. Immigration is as always a federal function.

Sanctuary cities jargon grew out of the religious and political sanctuary movement of the early 1980s when liberal activists sought to shelter Central American refugees fleeing civil conflicts who reportedly couldn't get U.S. asylum.

Now President Donald Trump uses the sanctuary label to rally his base and warn Democratic enclaves.

"We'll bring [refugees] to sanctuary city areas and let that particular area take care of it, whether it's a state or whatever it might be," Trump told reporters. But his spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders soon hedged. "Nobody thinks this is the ideal solution, but until we can fix the crisis at the border, we have to look at all options," she said.

Other Trump border warnings have been hollow. He's talked of closing border crossings, cutting off aid to Central America, imposing car tariffs on Mexico and ending law-enforcement grants to sanctuary cities. Family separations backfired, and he isn't resuming them. Wall plans are tied up and Trump's plans are unclear.

"Sanctuary cities!" has been a rallying cry in Republican debates for more than a decade. In ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani's failed GOP run for president in 2008, he drew debate fire from the likes of now-Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and the late Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee for running a sanctuary city, which Giuliani denied.

In fact, the former mayor in 1996 unsuccessfully sued Bill Clinton's administration to void a law that said states or cities couldn't stop employees from acting on their own to turn over information to the federal government about undocumented immigrants.

“If we didn’t allow illegals to report crimes,” Giuliani said in 2007, “a lot of criminals would have gone free because they’re the ones who had the information."

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