ASK THE JUDGE – by Judge Russell Fagg

Originally published in the 4/14/17 print edition

What the heck are sanctuary cities?

I was recently asked about sanctuary cities — what they are and how they fit into America’s immigration policy and our criminal justice system? I thought it is an interesting topic worthy of an article.

The encyclopedia defines a sanctuary city as “cities in the United States that have policies designed to not persecute undocumented immigrants. These practices can be by law (de jure) or by habit (de facto).” Put another way, sanctuary cities do not enforce immigration laws. Sanctuary cites often do not allow their law enforcement personnel to inquire about immigration status. Furthermore, sanctuary cities will not inform immigration officers if an illegal immigrant has been convicted of breaking the law.

The most common situation that occurs in my courtroom is when an illegal immigrant (generally from Mexico) is charged with a felony, often criminal distribution of dangerous drugs for carrying (referred to as “ muling”) drugs into Yellowstone County. Once convicted, immigration is informed and that defendant is deported. In a sanctuary city, deportation does not occur because immigration is not informed of the criminal conviction. There are two downsides to this situation, in my opinion. First, Montana must pay for the cost of imprisoning the illegal immigrant, and two, the illegal immigrant, now a convicted felon, is not forced to leave our state and go home.


History of sanctuary cities

Though very different in scope and intent, sanctuary cites have been in existence for thousands of years, and have been associated with most faiths, including Christianity, Judaism, … Read full column in Print edition by subscribing here.


Judge Russell Fagg has been on the bench for over 22 years, and has handled over 25,000 cases. Fagg also served two terms in the Montana Legislature prior to becoming a judge. This monthly “Ask the Judge” column is intended to answer questions asked of Judge Fagg.