Border Struggles, Political Unity, and the Transformative Power of the Local: US Sanctuary Cities and Spain’s Cities of Refuge


This article draws on theoretical insights about bordering and citizenship as strategies for socially constructing difference and the scholarship on scalar challenges underlying contemporary bordering to analyze sanctuary cities in the United States and cities of refuge in Spain. We argue that these initiatives challenge and resist restrictive national migration policies from below, at the local level, with attention to their implications at the global scale. Such policies have the potential to create meaningful social change by 1) amplifying and producing political unity across socially constructed differences and 2) “scaling down” migration politics from the national to the local level and, simultaneously, “jumping scale” via reliance on human rights framings. We conclude that sanctuary city and city-of-refuge designations are not merely symbolic; instead, these designations can be conceived of as locally based, global repertoires of action that make positive contributions in pursuit of social justice.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2021-09-01
Pages:1 to 15
Section:Special Issue: Transforming Borders and the Discretionary Politics of Migration
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How to Cite
Wonders, N. A. and Fernández-Bessa, C. . (2021) “Border Struggles, Political Unity, and the Transformative Power of the Local: US Sanctuary Cities and Spain’s Cities of Refuge”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 10(3), pp. 1-15. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2037.

Author Biographies

Northern Arizona University
 United States

Nancy Wonders is Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University. She has published extensively on the criminology of borders and mobility; globalization and the increasingly transnational character of crime and justice; social inequality, difference, and justice; and the development of effective strategies to create sustainable and just communities.

University of A Coruña

Cristina Fernandez Bessa Ph.D. is a Juan de la Cierva senior research fellow at ECRIM, University of A Coruña, Spain. Her research focuses on the criminology of mobility and borders, policing, prisons, gender and human rights.