Defining and defending sanctuary cities

April 2, 2019

While the concept of sanctuary cities ancient, it has taken on new importance along with the politicization and securitization of migration. In the U.S., local sanctuary policies and social movements can play an important role in defending undocumented people. This is particularly important given schisms between city, state, and federal policy, and the proportion of undocumented people with partners, spouses, and children with US citizenship. Sanctuary policies can also play an important role in ensuring that undocumented people can access healthcare and social services, and feel safe to report crimes, unfair labour practices, and domestic abuse. At the same time, sanctuary policies can serve as a point of backlash from law enforcement agencies, immigration authorities, and often first and second-generation immigrant communities. 

This panel discussion will unpack the role of sanctuary movements in the US context, and compare them with policies in Canada, where the role of immigration enforcement and undocumented populations is far less politicized from either end of the spectrum.

This panel discussion brought together practitioner and academic perspectives, in conversation with policymakers from the City of Toronto.


  • Chris Brillinger (discussant) Executive Director, Social Development, Finance and Administration at City of Toronto

  • Alexandra Délano Alonso Associate Professor and Chair of Global Studies at The New School in New York City

  • Idil Atak was a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the McGill Centre for Human Rights & Legal Pluralism

  • Ritika Goel served as both the Lead Physician at the Inner City Family Health Team and the Population Health Lead for ICHA