Days after Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, Detroit City Council Member Raquel Castañeda-López pushed for Detroit to become a sanctuary city for immigrants without documentation. Two months later, when President Trump issued an executive order threatening to withhold federal funding from communities harboring immigrants, Mayor Mike Duggan said that, in fact, Detroit is not a sanctuary city.
The city’s famously fragile budget has some Democrats caving to financial pressure from the White House, yet echoing their desire for Detroit to one day be a sanctuary city. That’s confusing locals. Nearly half of Detroiters said they didn’t know whether the city had sanctuary status, according to a poll of 100 residents on August 1. Thirty-nine percent thought, incorrectly, that Detroit was a sanctuary city.
“ICE is here all the time— everywhere,” said Kaitlin Carter, who studies anthropology at Wayne State University and was unaware of the term’s definition. “[The term] is a false sense of security.”
Carter said that it’s “dangerous” as it misleads undocumented immigrants who are seeking a safe and comfortable place to live while going through the citizenship process, she said. Andrea Bitely, communications director for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, said she encourages citizens to contact their law school professors or an attorney in private practice to determine the definition of a sanctuary city.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a memo last May that sanctuary jurisdictions “willfully refuse to comply” with a federal law that requires local and state governments to report their citizens’ immigration statuses. Yet Detroit immigration attorney Ronald E. Schultz said Sessions’ words are moot. “The Attorney General does not make the law— Congress makes the law,” Schultz said. “Congress has not passed any law that I am aware of defining a sanctuary city.”
López, the first Latina to serve on the Detroit City Council, spearheaded an effort to designate Detroit as a “welcoming city” in July 2014, joining a network of 48 other communities, counties, and municipalities in the country. Michigan is home to several other self-declared welcoming communities, including Sterling Heights, Clinton Township and Maycomb County.
Mariana Martinez, Lopez’s chief of staff, said that while it would be great if Detroit could become a sanctuary city, it’s not financially viable under the current presidency. “I don’t think Detroit would be a sanctuary city,” she said. “We aren’t in a position to lose funding.”