Sanctuary Networks

50 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2017 Last revised: 11 Sep 2018

See all articles by Rose Cuison Villazor

Rose Cuison Villazor

Rutgers Law School

Pratheepan Gulasekaram

Santa Clara University School of Law

Date Written: September 18, 2017


Resistance to the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies in the form of sanctuary has increased and spread. In addition to the traditional types of sanctuary such as “sanctuary cities” and churches, the past year has witnessed the proliferation of novel sites of sanctuary—workplaces, school districts, universities, corporations, private homes, and social media—that collectively seek to protect vulnerable immigrants against immigration enforcement. To date, however, legal scholarship on sanctuary has focused almost exclusively on states and municipalities that limit participation with federal immigration authorities. Accordingly, doctrinal and theoretical discussion has centered on sanctuary’s constitutional dimensions, solely focused on Tenth Amendment and federalism concerns. This narrow framing is myopic. It fails to capture the varied legal and policy issues that surround the innovative and evolving concept of sanctuary today.

This Article is the first to comprehensively describe and theorize both conventional and emerging types of sanctuary. Adopting network governance theories developed by political theorists, this Article coins the term “sanctuary network” to argue that current public and private examples of sanctuary are best understood as part of a broader system of legal resistance characterized by a decentralized and distributed set of actors. By reframing sanctuary in this way, this Article makes three points. First, doctrinally, this framework forces a rethinking of the legal issues that animate these sanctuaries. Our recasting moves the sanctuary debate beyond federalism and draws attention to several underappreciated common law, statutory, and constitutional sources that support these variegated claims. Second, as a normative claim, this Article argues that when operating as a networked sanctuary, public and private actors are more effectively able to instantiate an alternative set of norms to challenge the federal government’s enforcement scheme. Finally, as a prescriptive matter, this Article concludes that sanctuary networks are desirable because they democratize our national debate over immigration policy, allowing multiple institutions and individuals to calibrate immigration enforcement. Ultimately, this new way of understanding modern day sanctuary networks encourages novel methods of legal resistance.

Suggested Citation

Villazor, Rose Cuison and Gulasekaram, Pratheepan, Sanctuary Networks (September 18, 2017). Minnesota Law Review, Forthcoming, Santa Clara Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper, No. 2017-14, Available at SSRN: or

Rose Cuison Villazor (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States

Pratheepan Gulasekaram

Santa Clara University School of Law ( email )

500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053
United States
408.554.4188 (Phone)

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