Sanctuary Cities and Refugees: The Impacts of Social Sustainability

One implicit policy that has been implemented in the city of Chicago yet is currently under attack is that which designates Chicago as a “Sanctuary City”. A Sanctuary City chooses to be more inclusive of undocumented immigrants by protecting employees from being asked directly about their immigration status. This policy took the form as an executive order in Chicago ordered by Mayor Harold Washington in 1985. Why does this relate to sustainability? From a social sustainability perspective, it is a policy (by way of executive order) to allow immigrants a place to work without immediate deportation. The purpose of this policy is to allow more people into the labor force of the city and boost the economy, but it indirectly allows climate refugees into the conversation, something that the UN Habitat III Conference discussed this past month.

Over time, this policy may not have changed, but its implementation has. Under the Obama presidency, more people have been deported than in the history of the United States. There have been more efforts to suppress these sanctuary cities by defunding them, especially after the election of Donald Trump.

An important thing to consider is that this is an urban and international issue because it highlights the hardships that refugees and immigrants need to go through in order to get to the city in the first place, as now there are many places that are geographically suffering from climate change or other socially and politically unsustainable hardships. The UN Habitat III report speaks on the need for cities to be more powerful in their ability to protect human rights and people of the world. I find this to be an interesting topic of the time, and this will continue to be an issue that will have serious backlash no matter what happens in the coming months.


Course readings – White House: Climate Change is a National Security Issue

Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Financing the New Urban Agenda

Resettling the First American “Climate Refugees”

5 Things You Need to Know About ‘Sanctuary Cities’


2 thoughts on “Sanctuary Cities and Refugees: The Impacts of Social Sustainability

  1. I like that you bring forward an issue that is very relevant to the election results, and also one that sheds truth and the actual deportation issue that has prevailed under President Obama. Something you hint towards is social fabric and what the city’s social composition has to do with its own health and how cities can be effected by national policy. I think often about the culture of fear that is surrounding deportation in Chicago’s immigrant neighborhoods, and how deportations, while lawful, do not offer a humane solution to the larger issues at hand.
    Internationally, labor crisis effects the global cities of the world, one of which is Chicago. Here, we can see clear evidence of the need for undocumented labor as this city is a sanctuary city and one of the major migration points for illegal immigrants. One thing you may want to look into to examine this relationship further would be the presence of the undocumented in the U.S. This report examines immigrant labor in New York City;

    That, for me, raises some interesting questions as to the harm of deportation to economies and social relations in American cities.


  2. Yes!! People tend to forget the importance of each of the pillars of sustainable living and mainly focus on the environmental stance. This strongly focuses on social equity of sustainability and is a critical current event topic of discussion. Chicago should be strongly promoted and protected as a sanctuary city, especially under Trump’s rule. Thousands of immigrants seek refuge in America and need this safe space of living, a space with open opportunity for living, learning, and working, without discrimination.
    Here’s an article on NPR that talks about how Chicago and other cities will continue accepting immigrants despite the federal conflicts:
    This does also promote economic development of Chicago as you mentioned, through the employment of the people.


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