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The European Union and Beyond

Sanctuary’s Sovereign Rule: Exceptional Private Power of Local Immigration Policy within Toronto’s Sanctuary City

Local Government
Public Policy
Social Movements
Policy Implementation
State Power
Sasha Kovalchuk
McMaster University
Sasha Kovalchuk
McMaster University

Sanctuary City scholarship encounters a dilemma. Studies reveal Sanctuary Cities, wherein municipalities provide services regardless of immigration status, often result in a false sense of security for undocumented peoples living in constant threat of deportation. Yet scholars remain optimistic because Sanctuary Cities challenge the primacy of the state to police migration. I argue Sanctuary City literature dichotomizes policy effectiveness thus obscuring how state officials, business, and civil society actors each contest and can possess local sovereign control over citizenship. I develop the concept of private delegated sovereignty as a metric to trace the local political process and contest over enacting citizenship. Three overlapping theoretical methods reveal Sanctuary City local governance mechanisms. First, Sanctuary City policies utilize zoning technology described by post-development globalization theory (like by Murray and Ong) who show how local and subnational bodies configure exceptional territorial zones to benefit private business who gain degrees of sovereign power over citizenship, labour, and environmental regulation. Second, in cases of immigration federalism (like in Canada and the U.S.), decentralized and shared de facto jurisdictions over migration enables each level of government to partake in zoning technologies controlling migrants. Third, Toronto demonstrates how zoning technology operates within local immigration policy in cities capable to benefit migrants’ well-being. Sanctuary City policies are a zoning technology available for levels of government to configure jurisdictional bounds of local immigration governance. Sanctuary Cities reveals a contest between state, business, and civil society actors over delegated private sovereign zoning to administer citizenship powers within immigration federalism.
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