In a time of heightened immigration debates and a pressing border crisis, the concept of sanctuary states has gained significant attention.

This article delves into the intriguing stories of ten U.S. states that have defied federal immigration norms and policies to become sanctuary states.

Discover the controversies, legal battles, and political decisions that shaped their paths, as we explore the unique journey each state has taken in providing protection and refuge for undocumented immigrants.

From early adopters to recent developments, these states’ decisions continue to stir discussions about the intersection of state and federal immigration laws.


Connecticut Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

Connecticut, often referred to as the Nutmeg State, took significant steps towards becoming a sanctuary state in 2013.

The state’s legislature passed the Trust Act, and it received the signature of Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat. This landmark legislation laid the groundwork by placing restrictions on state and local law enforcement agencies, preventing them from cooperating with ICE immigration detainers in the majority of situations.

Fast forward to June 2019, and a new chapter unfolded.

Governor Ned Lamont, also a member of the Democratic party, signed a fresh piece of legislation into law. This expansion of the 2013 sanctuary statute came into effect in October of the same year, solidifying Connecticut’s commitment to providing a safe haven for immigrants.


Colorado Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

The Trump administration responded to Colorado’s actions by withholding approximately $2.7 million in federal law enforcement grants that had previously been approved. This move was seen as a reaction to the state’s sanctuary policies.

In an effort to further strengthen the state’s stance on immigration, State Senator Julie Gonzalez introduced legislation in February. Her proposal aimed to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from entering courthouses to carry out civil arrests.

This highlighted the ongoing debate over immigration policies in Colorado and the efforts to protect immigrant communities.


California Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

California officially became a sanctuary state when Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed Senate Bill 54, also known as the California Values Act, into law in October 2017.

As the most populous state in the U.S. with nearly 40 million residents, this move had significant implications for immigration policy.

However, the statewide sanctuary status faced resistance in Southern California. Approximately 16 cities and counties in the region expressed their opposition to the state law by taking actions such as filing lawsuits or passing local ordinances, reflecting the ongoing debate and diversity of views on immigration within the state.


Illinois Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

In 2017, Illinois embraced sanctuary status when Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Illinois Trust Act. As the sixth most populous state in the nation, it became one of the largest sanctuary states, demonstrating its commitment to immigrant rights.

In 2019, a new chapter unfolded under the leadership of Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker. He signed three significant bills that further fortified Illinois’ sanctuary law.

These measures collectively aimed to ban alien detention centers, restrict local law enforcement from collaborating with ICE, and limit immigration enforcement in public schools, universities, libraries, hospitals, and courthouses.

Illinois continued to make strides in protecting immigrant communities and upholding its sanctuary status.


Massachusetts Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

In July 2017, Massachusetts took a significant step towards becoming a sanctuary state when the state’s Supreme Judicial Court issued a pivotal ruling in the Lunn v. Commonwealth case. This decision had the practical effect of establishing sanctuary-like policies within the state.

Over the decade leading up to 2017, Massachusetts saw the largest increase in its illegal alien population compared to any other state, with a surge of 60,000 individuals. This influx raised concerns about costs to taxpayers and public safety.

The town of Cambridge pushed the boundaries of sanctuary policies even further in 2020 when it enacted a law advising local police not to arrest illegal aliens for driving without a license, highlighting the ongoing debate surrounding immigration policies in Massachusetts.

New Jersey

New Jersey Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

New Jersey officially became a sanctuary state on March 15, 2019, when a directive issued on November 29, 2018, by the state’s Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, a Democrat, came into effect. This marked a significant development in the state’s immigration policy.

What made this situation unique was that it appeared to be the first instance where a state became a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants through the unilateral action of a non-elected official.

Gurbir Grewal had been appointed by Democratic Governor Phil Murphy.

In response to this directive, in January 2020, the Department of Justice supported legal challenges from two towns, further highlighting the controversy surrounding New Jersey’s sanctuary policies and the legal battles that ensued.

New York

New York Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

New York, often referred to as the Empire State, established sanctuary-like policies through a significant executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, on September 15, 2017. This executive order primarily applied to state agencies but did not extend to local law enforcement.

In November 2018, a pivotal ruling in the case of Francis v. DeMarco by a New York state appeals court further solidified the state’s stance on immigration. The ruling stated that both state and local law enforcement were prohibited from honoring ICE immigration detainers.

New York continued to enact progressive immigration policies, allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses starting in 2019, further shaping its position as a sanctuary-like state for immigrants.


Oregon Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

Oregon is the very first sanctuary state, having enacted its sanctuary statute in July 1987. This historic move marked the beginning of the sanctuary state movement.

Under this law, Oregon prohibits the use of public resources to arrest or detain individuals whose sole offense is violating U.S. immigration laws, providing a measure of protection to undocumented immigrants.

In 2020, the state’s Democratic legislators took further steps to bolster their sanctuary policies. They attempted to compel the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility to cease its contracts with the federal government for the detention of both undocumented immigrants and those who had committed criminal offenses, illustrating the ongoing debate and efforts surrounding immigration in Oregon.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

In 2014, Governor Lincoln Chafee, originally elected as an Independent but later switching to the Democratic Party, issued a directive to Rhode Island’s executive agencies and its Department of Corrections. This directive instructed them to cease honoring federal immigration detainers unless accompanied by a court order, signaling a shift towards sanctuary-like policies in the state.

In both 2017 and 2018, state lawmakers attempted to pass a bill that would have prohibited ICE personnel and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers from entering schools, hospitals, and courthouses without obtaining a judicial warrant. However, these legislative efforts did not succeed.

As of 2014, Rhode Island had an estimated 30,000 undocumented immigrants, constituting approximately 2.9 percent of the total state population. This demographic makeup reflects the complex issues and debates surrounding immigration in the Ocean State.


Vermont Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

Vermont transitioned into a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants in 2011, under the leadership of Governor Pete Shumlin, a Democrat. This transformation was initiated in response to the arrest of two Mexican nationals, who had been stopped for speeding. The policy change was grounded in State Police Rules and Regulations VSP-DIR-301.

In 2017, Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, further extended Vermont’s sanctuary policy by signing Vermont Senate Bill 79 into law. This expansion broadened the sanctuary provisions to encompass local authorities, whereas the 2011 policy had only applied to the State Police.

In 2020, a lawsuit filed by a pro-sanctuary special interest group led to a significant development. The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles pledged not to report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities, further solidifying the state’s sanctuary status and commitment to protecting immigrant communities.

Washington State

Washington Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

Washington state embraced sanctuary-like policies in February 2017 when Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, issued an executive order applying to state agencies. This effectively designated the state as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

In May 2019, Governor Inslee took further steps by signing the Keep Washington Working Act into law. This legislation not only codified his previous executive order, but also expanded it by prohibiting local jails from detaining individuals solely based on ICE detainers. It strengthened the state’s commitment to protecting undocumented immigrants.

In a legal dispute with the federal government, the Trump administration sued King County, Washington, in February, over the county’s policy of preventing ICE from using its airports for deportation flights. This lawsuit highlighted the ongoing tensions between federal and state policies regarding immigration in Washington.

Washington D.C.

Washington DC Flag
Image Credit: ISoldMyHouse

Washington, D.C., though not a state, embarked on a path toward sanctuary-like policies in 1984 when then-Mayor Marion Barry, a Democrat, issued a memo instructing D.C. officers and employees not to inquire about individuals’ immigration status, with a limited exception for determining eligibility for public benefits.

The sanctuary status was expanded further during the tenure of former Mayor Vince Gray in 2011 and subsequently by the DC Council in 2012.

In October 2019, the 2012 legislation was reinforced as the DC Council unanimously passed emergency legislation. This new law prohibited detaining undocumented immigrants for longer periods than citizens or legal immigrants and barred the notification of ICE regarding the release dates of undocumented immigrants.

These actions underscored the District’s commitment to protecting undocumented immigrants within its jurisdiction.

Do You Like This Article? Share It!