All Cities Are Sanctuary Cities

The topic of sanctuary cities comes up every once in a while. It should come up a lot more often.

We need sanctuary cities. That is because we need relief from federal regulations and laws. We also need relief from state regulations and laws. There are vastly too many regulations on the books. There are so many laws and regulations that there is no way to keep track of all of them. Every year, the Federal Register publishes over 80,000 pages of fine print, three-column regulations. There is no way that these regulations are part of a coherent plan. There is no coherent plan, which is one of the central facts of all modern administrative law.


The modern state is messianic. It operates on the assumption that government legislators and executive bureaucracies of enforcement have the power of God. The whole system of modern planning assumes that state planners are omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. They are none of these things. Therefore, every system of modern centralized government is a fraud. If the central planners could actually implement their plans, the chaos this would create would paralyze productivity, and the vast majority of humanity would starve to death. Whenever we see massive central planning, such as in North Korea, we see massive impoverishment, when we do not see actual starvation. There are many stories of starvation in North Korea. I think they are true.

We get some sense of just how messianic the modern state is when we look at the Federal Register. The publication is a monstrosity. It is unreadable. It is incoherent. If you get trapped by one of these administrative agencies, you are either going to have to spend a fortune on hiring lawyers to defend yourself, or else you’re going to capitulate. The alternative is to be put out of business. What saves us is the fact that these regulations are enforced only sporadically. They rely on self-government. They rely on fear. There is no way that the modern administrative state can be enforced, apart from self-restraint on the part of fearful participants in the economy.

The main institutional reason why we have any liberty remaining is that the vast majority of these laws and regulations are not enforced. There is not sufficient wealth at the federal, state, or local level to enforce more than a fraction of these laws and regulations.


We should assume something like a Pareto 80/20 distribution of enforcement. My guess is this: about 80% of the money and resources spent on enforcing laws and regulations applies to about 20% of the laws and regulations. I am simply guessing. But Pareto’s distribution applies well to so many areas of life that I see no reason why it does not apply here.

Pareto’s distribution is a power law. This means that the same 20/80 distribution applies as we go up the pyramid of power. So, probably two-thirds of all the enforcement money and resources are applied to about 4% of the laws and regulations: 20% of 20% = 4%, and 80% of 80%=64%. About 50% of the money and resources apply to less than 1% of the laws and regulations: 20% of 4% = 0.8%; 80% of 64% = 51%. If Pareto’s law doesn’t apply, then something comparable to Pareto’s law applies.

The reason why we have any liberty at all, and the reason why we have money left over in local government budgets to build and repair roads, impose mosquito abatement programs, and operate public schools is because most of the laws that are on the books are enforced rarely, and when they are enforced, they are enforced sporadically. It is in the background noise of unenforced laws that we find our refuge from the state.


Sanctuary cities are an inescapable concept. Therefore, it is never a question of sanctuary cities versus no sanctuary cities. It is a question of which cities turn a blind eye when looking at specific violations of the law.

Cities cannot possibly afford to enforce all federal laws and regulations. To attempt this would bankrupt every city. Cities would have to impose massive property taxation in order to create the administrative system necessary to enforce the laws that the federal government insists must be enforced at the local level. The federal government cannot afford to do it. So, the federal government demands the cities do it. All cities turn a blind eye to the request.

It is a political game that is played daily across the country. City governments pretend to enforce most federal regulations. The federal government in turn pretends not to notice that the cities are pretending.

The federal government could impose negative sanctions on cities that refused to impose politically correct regulations. The federal government could simply cut off all federal aid to a particular city. But there are so many regulations that are not enforced that the federal government would have to cut off all federal aid to every city in the country if it actually applied such a sanction. The federal government would then be shown to be a paper tiger. The federal government pretends that it may implement such a negative sanction, and this usually scares cities into implementing at least token enforcement procedures on a tiny handful of politically correct regulations. Any thought that anything like a comprehensive implementation of all of the laws and regulations that are supposed to be enforced at the local level will take place is an exercise in political fantasy.

Certain mayors have announced that their cities are sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. It is politically correct for these mayors to make such pronouncements. It makes them look liberal.

The federal government could intervene and stop this at any time. They would simply say that these cities will no longer receive federal aid of any kind. The federal government never does this. When the federal government refuses to implement negative sanctions that are easy to implement, we have to assume that there are good bureaucratic reasons for refusing to implement the negative sanctions. The voters really don’t care. The politicians in Washington know that most voters don’t care. Politicians and bureaucrats in Washington don’t want to cut off aid to the cities. They believe that the existence of a flow of funds to the cities from Washington is a means of gaining political leverage in local communities. I think this is a correct assumption. The bureaucrats in Washington don’t want to expose the whole system as a charade. They prefer piecemeal and sporadic conformity at the urban level. They figure that something is better than nothing. Some conformity is better than no conformity. So, they refuse to withhold federal aid from cities whose mayors have declared the cities to be sanctuaries for illegal immigrants.

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