Immigration Federalism in Minnesota: What Does Sanctuary Mean in Practice?

59 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2017

See all articles by Virgil Wiebe

Virgil Wiebe

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Date Written: 2017


In March 2016, the St. Thomas Law Journal gathered scholars from around the country to discuss whether sanctuary can make communities secure. Our symposium title, “Can Sanctuary Keep Communities Secure?” played on two contrasting approaches to immigration — the notion of Sanctuary, which often stands in tension with legal authority, and Secure Communities, a controversial immigration enforcement program of the Obama Administration designed (but perhaps not implemented as designed) to deport dangerous immigrants.

The conception of this paper arose from the desire to open the symposium by framing issues in the context of Minnesota. I asked the question “What is Sanctuary?” and sought answers from the on-the-ground reality of Minnesota’s immigrant communities. The paper answers the question at six levels in the state of Minnesota: (1) the home, (2) houses of worship, (3) educational institutions, (4) cities (and other sub-state authorities such as counties), (5) the state, and (6) national/federal level. “Sanctuary” inherently suggests the need for safety and security, and begs other questions, namely, who needs security and sanctuary, who makes up our community and “homeland” and who gets to speak about and build the legal protections that make up a tapestry of safety.

At each level, at least one specific policy/legal issue is addressed (e.g. separation ordinances in the city section, driver’s licenses at the state level, and responses to federal enforcement actions) to show how dynamics have played out in Minnesota. I address the dynamics of immigration federalism in Minnesota to assess the state of sanctuary in the land of ten thousand lakes, by identifying institutional and societal actors: the community, the federal government, the state government, regional authorities (most notably sheriffs), city governments, and civil society groups. How individuals inhabit and exercise power within these institutions matters.

I conclude that Minnesota is a state of reluctant welcome, and that the forces arrayed for and against immigrants (particularly those of unauthorized status) are in an unsteady balance, with pro-immigrant forces gaining some ground in recent years. The elections of November 2016 at both the state and national levels may mark another shift toward law and order and away from the grace of Sanctuary.

Keywords: immigration, immigration law, sanctuary

Suggested Citation

Wiebe, Virgil, Immigration Federalism in Minnesota: What Does Sanctuary Mean in Practice? (2017). University of St. Thomas Law Journal, 2017, Forthcoming; U of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-15. Available at SSRN:

Virgil Wiebe (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

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