Designing Sanctuary

59 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2023

See all articles by Rick Su

Rick Su

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2023


In recent decades, a growing number of cities in the United States have adopted “sanctuary policies” limiting local participation in federal immigration enforcement. Existing scholarship has focused on their legality and effect, especially with respect to our nation’s immigration laws. Largely overlooked, however, is the local process through which sanctuary policies are designed and the reasons why cities choose to adopt them through city ordinances, mayoral orders, or employee handbooks. This Article argues that municipal sanctuary policies are far from uniform, and their variation reflects the different local interests and institutional actors behind their adoption and implementation. More specifically, municipal sanctuary policies can be broadly categorized into three models: administrative sanctuary, political sanctuary, and silent sanctuary. Each of these models reflects a specific approach in how cities choose to balance their political relationship with residents, their administrative relationship with employees, and their intergovernmental relations with the state and federal government. Moreover, these three models correspond with different eras in sanctuary’s development and anti-sanctuary responses at the state and federal level. This typology highlights the structural and institutional forces that have contributed to the diversity of sanctuary policies in the United States. In addition, it calls into question many of the assumptions in the sanctuary literature about the assessment of sanctuary policies, the goals of anti-sanctuary efforts, and the effect of all of this on local policymaking.

Keywords: immigration, local government law, sanctuary

Suggested Citation

Su, Rick, Designing Sanctuary (June 1, 2023). Michigan Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Rick Su (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

160 Ridge Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
(919) 962-5106 (Phone)


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