Fact Check

When Running for President in 2007, Biden Said He Wouldn't Allow Sanctuary Cities to Exist?

We've witnessed a well-documented shift in the president's narrative when it comes to immigration issues.

Published Feb. 22, 2024

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Image Via Getty Images
Claim:
In September 2007, then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden said he would not allow sanctuary cities to exist by ignoring federal law.

In February 2024, X (formerly Twitter) account @Habzz55 posted a video that received more than 13,400 views in which then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden said he would not allow sanctuary cities to exist by ignoring federal law. In January 2024, X account @mazemoore also posted the same video and claimed it was from a 2007 debate between Democratic candidates for president.

This post had received more than 3.5 million views and 38,000. Commenters pointed out the stark difference in Biden's current approach to immigration policy and his stance in 2007, with one user writing: "It seems the line between political pragmatism and flip-flopping is as thin as the border itself, reflecting the changing tides of public opinion rather than steadfast policy."

The video clip is real, and so we rate this claim as "Correct Attribution." The footage was recorded at the Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate (Biden's portion begins at 32:46) on Sept. 26, 2007, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The debate was hosted by Tim Russert and aired live on MSNBC.

The question, asked by a member of the audience, was originally posed to then-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as follows:

Dozens of cities around the country, including several here, right here in New England, have been designated as sanctuary cities. These are communities that provide a safe haven for illegal immigrants where police are told not to involve themselves in immigration matters. Would you allow these cities to ignore the federal law regarding the reporting of illegal immigrants, and in fact, provide sanctuary to these immigrants?

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, sanctuary "cities, counties, and states have laws, ordinances, regulations, resolutions, policies, or other practices that obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from ICE — either by refusing to or prohibiting agencies from complying with ICE detainers, imposing unreasonable conditions on detainer acceptance, denying ICE access to interview incarcerated aliens, or otherwise impeding communication or information exchanges between their personnel and federal immigration officers."

After Richardson's response at the 2007 debate, the audience member asked the same of Biden. His answer is as follows, with the audience member in italics:

I'd like to hear from Senator Biden, would you allow these cities to ignore the federal law?

The reason these cities ignore the federal law is the fact that there is no funding at the federal level to provide for the kind of enforcement at a federal level you need. Pick up The New York Times today. There's a city not far across the river from my state that imposed similar sanctions. And what they found out is, as a consequence of that, their city went in the dump, in the dumpster. Stores started closing, everything started to happen, and they changed the policy. Part of the problem is, you have to have a federal government that can enforce laws. This administration's been fundamentally derelict in not funding any of the requirements that are needed even in enforcing existing law. And the last point I'll make is, Rudy Giuliani doesn't know what the heck he's talking about. He's the most uninformed person in American foreign policy and now running for president …

So, Senator Biden, yes or no, would you allow those cities to ignore the federal law?

No.

The previous month, on Aug. 7, 2007, Biden said that "no great nation" can have uncontrolled borders and proposed increased security along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a partial border fence and more Border Patrol agents, as we recently reported.

The tweet that shared the viral video characterized Biden's recent immigration stance as one that does not support any arrests or deportations by ICE. Speaking about the U.S.-Mexico border at a news conference in January 2023, Biden said that he aimed to crack down on illegal immigration, strengthen legal immigration, and protect DREAMers.

Sources

Constantino, Annika Kim. 'U.S. Will No Longer Deport People Solely Because They Are Undocumented, Homeland Security Secretary Says'. CNBC, 30 Sept. 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/30/immigration-us-will-no-longer-deport-people-simply-because-they-are-undocumented.html.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate | September 26, 2007 | C-SPAN.Org. https://www.c-span.org/video/?201205-1/democratic-presidential-candidates-debate#! Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.

House, The White. 'Remarks by President Biden on Border Security and Enforcement'. The White House, 5 Jan. 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2023/01/05/remarks-by-president-biden-on-border-security-and-enforcement/.

Liles, Jordan. 'Did Biden Propose a Border Fence in 2007 and Say No Great Nation Has Uncontrolled Borders?' Snopes, 10 Jan. 2024, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/biden-border-fence-2007/.

Secretary Mayorkas Announces New Immigration Enforcement Priorities | Homeland Security. https://www.dhs.gov/news/2021/09/30/secretary-mayorkas-announces-new-immigration-enforcement-priorities. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.

Vaughan, Jessica M., and Bryan Griffith. Map: Sanctuary Cities, Counties, and States. Dec. 2023. cis.org, https://cis.org/Map-Sanctuary-Cities-Counties-and-States.

Taija PerryCook is a Seattle-based journalist who previously worked for the PNW news site Crosscut and the Jordan Times in Amman.