Sanctuary Cities and Republican Liberty

J. Matthew Hoye*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


What are sanctuary cities? What are the political stakes? The literature provides inadequate answers. Liberal migration theorists offer few insights into sanctuary city politics. Critical migration scholars primarily address the relationship between sanctuary cities and political activism, a small part of the phenomenon. The historical literature examines continuities between 1970s sanctuary church activism and contemporary sanctuary cities, confusing what is essential to sanctuary churches and what is only sometimes associated with sanctuary cities. Together these approaches obscure more than they reveal. This article suggests a republican account of sanctuary cities. Reconstructing American migration politics from the colonial era onward shows that sanctuary cities have roots in both the colonial republican revolt and the republican principle of freedom as nondomination. That reconstruction reveals much about both sanctuary cities and the federal government’s long-running assault on them. The resulting robust analytical framework clarifies what is at stake in the politics of sanctuary cities: federal sovereignty in migration politics specifically and republican liberty in migration politics generally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-97
Number of pages31
JournalPolitics & Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • liberalism
  • migration ethics
  • nondomination
  • radical democracy
  • republicanism
  • sanctuary cities


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