Sanctuary Cities and Non-Refoulement

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 23 (2):457-474 (2020)
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More than two hundred cities in the United States have now declared themselves to be sanctuary cities. This declaration involves a commitment to non-compliance with federal law; the sanctuary city will refuse to use its own juridical power – including, more crucially, its own police powers – to assist the federal government in the deportation of undocumented residents. We will argue that the sanctuary city might be morally defensible, even if deportation is not always wrong, and even if the federal government is legally permitted to demand that states participate in the process of deportation. We defend this conclusion with reference to a simple, but powerful, norm of international law: that of non-refoulement. As we will discuss, this norm articulates the idea that no state may rightly use its coercive power to move a person into a position in which their basic rights are at risk. We take this norm as a morally defensible principle, and ask what could follow from its acceptance. We argue that this norm has implications for a variety of actors – especially when we notice that those who are facing unjust risks of death are, in general, entitled to use defensive violence against their aggressors. This simple fact, we argue, can help offer a novel defense of the sanctuary city.



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Author Profiles

Blake Hereth
University of Pennsylvania
Michael Blake
University of Washington

Citations of this work

Civil disobedience.Kimberley Brownlee & Candice Delmas - 2021 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Sanctuary as democratic non-cooperation.Patti Tamara Lenard - 2022 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 21 (3):291-312.
Sanctuary as democratic non-cooperation.Patti Tamara Lenard - 2022 - Sage Publications: Politics, Philosophy and Economics 21 (3):291-312.

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References found in this work

Political Liberalism.J. Rawls - 1995 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.
Defensive Killing.Helen Frowe - 2014 - Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Self-defense.Judith Jarvis Thomson - 1991 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 20 (4):283-310.

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