Sanctuary Lost? Exposing the Reality of the 'Sanctuary-City' Debate & Liberal States-Rights' Litigation

59 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2017 Last revised: 16 Apr 2018

See all articles by Cara Cunningham Warren

Cara Cunningham Warren

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

Date Written: August 31, 2017


The Trump Administration seeks to withhold federal funding from “sanctuary cities” and has returned to the Bush-era Secure Communities Program (S-Comm), which has led to a 150% arrest-rate increase of the non-criminal, undocumented migrants who would otherwise be integrated into “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

Liberal voices have responded in legal and academic terms, but they have not re-framed the administration’s powerful anti-immigrant narrative. This rhetorical mismatch has obscured fundamental aspects of the debate—namely, the power of states and localities to make community policing decisions and the effectiveness of such integrationist policies. Moreover, the liberals’ approach to states-rights’ litigation is incomplete. The aspects of Executive Order 13,768 that are receiving the most attention (i.e., funding) can be rebuffed, yet the aspects that pose a serious threat to integrationist policies (i.e., S-Comm) are not being addressed.

Liberals should continue states-rights’ litigation, as necessary, but consider it one of three specific tactics designed to prompt a return to immigration enforcement priorities. Specifically, liberals also should assert an integrationist counter-narrative and use litigation as a form of non-cooperation designed to prompt discourse about shared security concerns.

Keywords: sanctuary cities, states' rights, immigration, federalism, Executive Order 13,768, integrationist, restrictionist

Suggested Citation

Cunningham Warren, Cara, Sanctuary Lost? Exposing the Reality of the 'Sanctuary-City' Debate & Liberal States-Rights' Litigation (August 31, 2017). 63:2 Wayne L. Rev. 155 (2018).. Available at SSRN:

Cara Cunningham Warren (Contact Author)

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law ( email )

651 E. Jefferson
Detroit, MI 48226
United States

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