Safe Cities for Immigrants: National Report [2023 Update]

While the immigration topic may be very contradictory, it will be fair to admit that immigration is one of the core elements in the United States’ development as a country.

There are millions of immigrants coming to the USA annually. Some of them are granted work permits and special visas, allowing them to stay in the States, and some of them do not have such an opportunity in life.

This leads us to the fact that a very large number of people are staying in the States illegally, and recent years show that their positions are weakening. Getting even a regular tourist visa to the United States is becoming a more and more complex task. So, when it comes to getting all the proper documents to live in the US — it’s nearly impossible for some groups of people.

We want to highlight the hottest spots in the United States where newcomers are settling. Our goal is to find the best cities for both legal and illegal immigrants, where those coming to start a new life here can maintain their lifestyle and feel safe.

Safe Cities for Illegal Immigrants

Let’s start with a topic that can seem controversial yet may help those who seek support after having problems with their immigration papers.

The United States is a remarkable place to live, and one of the reasons lies underneath the laws that allow states to decide whether they’ll enforce the federal immigration law or not. This results in safe haven cities that may become a perfect harbor for illegal immigrants. However, you shouldn’t confuse the idea of safe cities and think that they open the doors to illegal immigrants and call them in. This wouldn’t end well for any state, and the law is the law, after all.

This whole concept is called a sanctuary city; let’s dive a bit deeper into this phenomenon and learn how it affects the lives of illegal immigrants in the US.

What Are Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants?

Sanctuary city is the place where the control over the local immigration situation is kept in the hands of local authorities. They choose not to enforce the federal laws; they limit their involvement in the case and, usually, do not transfer the illegal immigrants to the central authorities.

Those cities and states set limits to their involvement in the situation. For example, they may not conduct joint patrols, refuse to jail illegal immigrants, or refuse to collect data about the legal immigration status while providing services.

Top 5 Sanctuary Cities in the United States

The number of cities that do not enforce federal immigration laws is quite significant. You can also stumble upon pretty big lists of states supporting the sanctuary status. We want to highlight the top five places among the most prominent cities that do not chase and prosecute every immigrant.

Chicago, IL

This is a very welcoming city that offers great sanctuary policies, municipal programs, and public service campaigns. Here, newcomers can get legal assistance, information on citizenship policy, and even mental health care.

Chicago police has limited relations with ICE and does not question law-abiding residents regarding citizenship status. This way, immigrants can feel way safer here.

It’s also worth mentioning that Rahm Emanuel (former Mayor of Chicago) signed an ordinance that aimed to make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the USA. Any immigrant who wouldn’t have a criminal record and required help and protection would be taken care of in the ‘Windy City.’

This is the top choice for both legal and illegal immigrants. This is a safe haven.

San Jose, CA

“We welcome any families to the city of San Jose who has endured such incredible hardships and have endeavored to make a better life for themselves and their families and want to be a part of our great country.”

Mayor of San Jose, CA

These words marked the strong response of the San Jose mayor to the attack from President Trump on the sanctuary cities that help illegal immigrants. San Jose has a local policy that strictly forbids police to report undocumented citizens.

San Jose is also known as the first city that sued the federal government over the DACA program. Local authorities even launched a 24/7 phone network where people could call and report on ICE raids in progress.

New York, NY

New York City rightfully found itself on our list of the most immigrant-friendly cities in the US. One of the initiatives that has been around for some time is a free city ID card, which can be issued to any individual over ten years long, regardless of their immigration status. The municipal ID card helps people living in NYC to ensure their safety and become a part of the local community, traveling through all five boroughs without problems. You can learn more about the necessary documents on the NYC government website.

Apply For IDNYC Now

Big Apple also has other great policies that the city keeps following steadily:

  • Detainer Law

This law draws a line between aggressive federal immigration laws and local policies. As a result, this initiative saves more than 4,000 immigrants annually.

  • The New York Immigrant Family Unity Program (NYIFUP)

This program helps those who have been detained and may face deportation with legal advice and services. Unfortunately, the funding of this program is not sufficient, but we hope the increase will take place in the upcoming years.

  • CUNY Citizenship Now!

It is a very old program that was established in 1996. CUNY assists thousands of immigrants with legal services and general support.

San Francisco, CA

The status of the sanctuary city remains with San Francisco since 1989.

“We will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our immigrant communities and fight for the progress we’ve achieved in this City. We are a sanctuary city, now, tomorrow and forever.”

– San Francisco Mayor’s Office

The city has two ordinances prohibiting local authorities, police officers, and other government employees from assisting the ICE and other organizations in federal immigration law enforcement.

Also, local law enforcement officers cannot notify ICE regarding the jail release of some persons and cannot cooperate with ICE detainers.

On the other hand, San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities, so it might be tough for a newcomer to settle here. However, you’ll truly enjoy the diversity of the local community, San Francisco is one of the most diverse cities in the USA to consider.

Philadelphia, PA

Philly has been among the hottest sanctuary cities that had to face budget cuts as a result of being too loyal to their sanctuary city status. According to the mayor’s office, they’ll continue fighting for any immigrant coming to Philadelphia in search of a better life.

“First of all, we’ve changed the name from ‘sanctuary city’ to ‘the Fourth Amendment city.’ We respect and live up to the Fourth Amendment, which means you can’t be held against your will without a warrant from the court signed by a judge. So, yeah, we will continue to be a Fourth Amendment city abiding by the Constitution.”

– Mayor of Philadelphia, PA

Local authorities won their sanctuary case in the federal appeals court. As a result, the court stated that the city could not face any budget cuts because of its refusal to cooperate with immigration authorities.

Philly will remain one of the safest cities for newcomers, especially considering the cost of life index and other factors affecting the everyday life of a regular citizen.

See The Full List of Sanctuary Cities

Why Are Sanctuary Cities Legal?

The debate around the legal side of the sanctuary cities phenomenon is robust until these days. When we talk about the possible obstruction of federal law, we’ve got to remember that there is no solid line between obstruction and simply ‘not helping.’ That’s the trick that is executed by the local authorities of sanctuary cities.

Localities are not obligated to help ICE and other immigration services to locate and catch illegal immigrants. They’re not forced to fund these initiatives, and therefore, they do not consider it a priority.

There are different reasons for such decisions. Sometimes, it’s all about humanism and protecting those who arrived in search of a better life. In some cases, police think it affects the possible cooperation with immigrants on crimes and murder cases negatively.

Where Do Legal Immigrants Prefer to Live in the US?

We dug the information on the cities with the most immigrants among the most prominent US metropolitan areas. The Rentberry team managed to calculate the percentage of the foreign-born population in these areas, as well as the cost of life and average monthly rent. Here are the statistics on the best cities for immigrants we’ve got in August 2023:

Miami, FL

Foreign-Born Population: 54.0%
Cost of Life Index: 86.01
Average Rent Price: $3,761

San Jose, CA

Foreign-Born Population: 40.7%
Cost of Life Index: 82.87
Average Rent Price: $3,801

Los Angeles, CA

Foreign-Born Population: 36.2%
Cost of Life Index: 82.30
Average Rent Price: $5,548

New York, NY

Foreign-Born Population: 36.3%
Cost of Life: 100
Average Rent Price: $6,035

San Francisco, CA

Foreign-Born Population: 34.1%
Cost of Life: 97.84
Average Rent Price: $5,142

Boston, MA

Foreign-Born Population: 28.1%
Cost of Life: 87.05
Average Rent Price: $3,762

Seattle, WA

Foreign-Born Population: 19.3%
Cost of Life: 88.04
Average Rent Price: $4,413

Milwaukee, WI

Foreign-Born Population: 10.1%
Cost of Life: 73.37
Average Rent Price: $2,173

These cities are keeping their positions as the hottest places for newcomers. In each city, you’ll be able to adapt to American life faster and get support from local immigrant communities.

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