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A Safe Space: The Influence of Sanctuary City Policies on Immigrant Education

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

In the face of a significant rise in immigration in the United States, deportations have increased under the Trump and Obama administrations. However, many cities have decided to adopt sanctuary city policies. By limiting interactions with immigration officials, they can protect immigrants from deportation, allowing them to feel safer earning an education or working a job in the US.

Living as an immigrant entails a life filled with courage but also fear.

Immigration enforcement policies affect immigrants’ behavior in their day-to-day lives (Wong, 2019). Due to fear, many immigrants tend not to report crimes they are victims of or use public services that require their personal information. They’re also less likely to attend community events where police officers are present. This behavior is seen to a much lesser extent in sanctuary cities, where immigrants feel safer. Similarly, confidence and participation in school are affected negatively by the threat of deportation. Dorantes and Lopez (2015) note that “intensification of interior immigration enforcement raises young children’s probability of repeating a grade by 6 percent and their likelihood of dropping out of school by 25.2 percent.” These statistics show how immigration enforcement psychologically affects undocumented youth, making it difficult for them to do well in school.

Schools in sanctuary cities are advancing their educational mission by welcoming undocumented youth and resisting immigration enforcement within schools. Various schools are creating workshops for their staff so that their community can work together to implement these policies correctly. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (Hanson, 2018) protects these students’ rights. In May 2017, when ICE officers entered an elementary school in Queens to apprehend a fourth-grade student, the school was able to turn the officers away because they did not have a judicial warrant (Chapman and Schapiro, 2017).

The approach that sanctuary cities take to immigration not only has a positive impact on immigrants’ education, but it also has a positive effect on the economy and crime rates. There are 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties; the poverty rate is average 2.3 percent lower in sanctuary counties. The unemployment rate is, on average, 1.1 percent lower in sanctuary counties. In communities where officers focus on keeping the community safe rather than targeting immigrants, immigrants are more engaged in the economy and community (Wong, 2017). Additionally, when given a good education, immigrants can help contribute to their communities better.

In a time when immigration has risen in the United States, it’s crucial to acknowledge immigrants’ valuable presence in society. Sanctuary cities have critically increased immigrants’ educational access, allowing immigrants to thrive and build up communities.


  • Suárez-Orozco, Carola and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco. 1995. Transformations: Migration, Family Life, and Achievement Motivation among Latino Adolescents. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  • Wong, Tom K., et al. The Impact of Interior Immigration Enforcement on the Day-to-Day Behaviors of Undocumented Immigrants. Working Paper 1. US Immigration Policy Center: La Jolla, CA, 2019.

  • Wong, Tom K. "The effects of sanctuary policies on crime and the economy." Center for American Progress 26 (2017).

  • Amuedo-Dorantes, Catalina, and Mary J. Lopez. 2015. ”Falling Through the Cracks” Grade Retention and School Dropout among Children of Likely Unau- thorized Immigrants.” American Economic Review

  • Chapman, Ben, and Rich Schapiro. “Queens School Boots Federal Immigration Agents Seeking Fourth Grader from Premises for Not Having Warrant.”, New York Daily News, 6 Apr. 2018.




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