“What is Urban Sanctuary?”

by Vivian Whalen

Urban sanctuary refers to practices and policies typically associated with “sanctuary cities”. Sanctuary cities have emerged over the past decades in the USA and Canada as cities that seek to protect migrants and refugees from federal immigration enforcement. In addition, these cities seek to offer municipal services, including education and access to medical treatment to migrants independent of their legal status. While there is no one agreed-upon definition of what a sanctuary city is, these cities are meant to be areas where migrants and refugees do not need to fear deportation and are able to feel that they belong in the urban community where they live and work. 

There are a multitude of sanctuary cities spanning throughout the United States, with California as a whole becoming a “sanctuary state” in 2017 through the passing of SB-54. Conversely, many states have banned sanctuary cities, including Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Iowa, and North Carolina. A major push against sanctuary cities was led by former President Donald Trump, who heavily criticized sanctuary cities during his time in office and during his re-election campaign. In January 2017, President Trump put forth an executive order meant to take away funding from sanctuary cities, ultimately being blocked by American courts

In a Canadian context, Toronto is considered to be the country’s first sanctuary city. In 2013 Toronto’s City Council passed legislation that gave its estimated 200,000 non-status inhabitants access to municipal services without fear of law enforcement. It’s been noted that municipal legislation did not explicitly refer to Toronto as a “sanctuary city” and this language was only introduced into official documents by Mayor John Tory in 2017. Aside from Toronto, the cities of Hamilton, Ajax and London in Ontario are considered to be sanctuary cities, along with Vancouver, Montreal, and Edmonton. 

In Canada, however, “non-status migrants continue to hold a well-founded fear of local police and, indeed, local authorities generally,” regardless of sanctuary-city policies being in place. There must be a continued effort in creating policies that make these cities more inclusive and less fearful environments for migrants and refugees. The goal of the Urban Sanctuary, Migrant Solidarity and Hospitality in Global Perspective partnership is, “to facilitate innovative and evidence-based policymaking at local and municipal levels for accommodating vulnerable migrants and refugees.” As our partnership grows, sanctuary cities and related policies and practices are being developed worldwide.

To learn more about the project visit our website: https://www.ryerson.ca/urban-sanctuary-solidarity-hospitality/