Olly Olly Oxen Free!

Olly Olly Oxen Free!


You find the perfect hiding spot and you wait, hoping to hear that magical sound, to hear whoever is “it” call out in frustration, “Olly Olly Oxen Free!” You know that you’re safe, that your hiding spot – your sanctuary – can be used again the next time you play. But in debates about people who are in the U.S. illegally, the concept of sanctuary is considerably more controversial. In fact, some argue that providing sanctuary to people who are in the country illegally is decidedly wrong. This lesson focuses on an argument between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani over New York’s alleged status as a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants. Students will explore the meaning of the term “sanctuary city” and determine for themselves whether New York City ought to be designated a sanctuary city.


In this lesson, students will:
  • Examine the debate between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani over New York City’s status as a “sanctuary city.”
  • Research the term “sanctuary city” to determine its meaning and explore the history of its usage.
  • Assess the disagreement between Romney and Giuliani to determine which candidate is correct.


As part of the campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, eight candidates squared off in a Nov. 28, 2007, primary debate hosted by CNN and cosponsored by YouTube. The opening round of the debate featured a fiery exchange between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani over the subject of immigration. Specifically, the candidates disagreed over whether New York City was a “sanctuary city” during Giuliani’s tenure as mayor. Romney argued that it was, while Giuliani denied the charge.


1. CNN / YouTube, “Republican Presidential Primary Debate
2. Student Handout #1, “CNN/YouTube Republican Debate Transcript.”
3. Congressional Research Service, “Enforcing Immigration Law.”
4. Student Handout #2, “Sanctuary City Worksheet.”

Internet access is required for this lesson.


Make enough copies of student handout #1 for each student. Determine how many copies of student handout #2 you will need for small groups of 3 – 5 students each and make a copy for each group. All groups will also require Internet access.


Exercise #1 – Going to the Source

To the teacher: At first glance, this dispute appears to be a straightforward factual dispute, namely, was New York City a sanctuary city or not? But there is one potential point of confusion. Gov. Romney actually makes two distinct claims in his exchange with Giuliani. First, he claims that New York City billed itself as a sanctuary city and then goes on to claim that it was in fact a sanctuary city. This lesson looks only at the issue of whether Romney is correct to characterize New York as a sanctuary city and not at the question of whether New York characterized itself as a sanctuary city. It seems to be a simple question of fact whether New York really is a sanctuary city. But it turns out that the question is less simple than it initially appears. For starters, we have this phrase “sanctuary city.” But it’s not at all clear what the term even means. So, as good reasoners, our first step should be to get a clear understanding of the meaning of the terms we’re discussing.

Show the class the first few minutes of the CNN/YouTube debate. Also pass out the relevant pages of the transcript. Divide the class into groups of 3 to 4 students. Then ask each group to answer the following questions, using Internet resources:
(Optional: You may or may not want to share with students the addresses of some sites that could be helpful, such as the 11th Judicial District Law Library, which will contain records of relevant New York city laws. They might usefully compare those laws with relevant statutes from San Francisco, both of which openly advertise themselves as sanctuary cities. Students might also refer to the National Immigration Law Center for an alternative take on sanctuary cities.)
  • What does the phrase “sanctuary city” actually mean?
  • What are the origins of the term?
  • What do you think Gov. Romney means to imply when he suggests that New York was a sanctuary city?
  • Why do you think that Mayor Giuliani wants to resist having the label attached to New York?
Have students report their findings back to the class.

So, then, now that we know what a sanctuary city is and why it’s important, it’s time for us to find out which candidate is correct. Return the students to their small groups, then distribute copies of student handout #2 to each group. If they did not find it in their earlier search for a definition of a sanctuary city, direct students to the Congressional Research Service on immigration law. Using the CRS definition of “sanctuary city,” ask students to determine whether or not New York counts as such. CRS actually lists New York as a sanctuary city. Students should verify that conclusion independently. (Hint: Ask students to look up the laws in question. The relevant statute is actually an executive order.)

Ask students to determine the characteristics of a sanctuary city and then determine whether New York City’s laws would classify it as a sanctuary city. (Note: there is room for reasonable people to disagree about this question. Students may end up disagreeing with the CRS definition. Whatever their definition, they should be sure to support their answers with accurate information.) Students should use student handout #1 to record their answers. Have the students report their findings back to the class. Students can then examine the article, “GOP You/Tube Debate Flubs” to see whether their assessments agree with’s. Have the students discuss differences (if any).

About the Author

Joe Miller received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He is a staff writer at, a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. Prior to joining FactCheck, he served as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at West Point and at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where he taught logic, critical thinking, ethics and political theory. The winner of an Outstanding Teacher award at UNC-Pembroke and an Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award at the University of Virginia, Joe has over 10 years of experience developing curricula. He is a member of American Philosophical Association and the Association for Political Theory.

Correlation to National Standards

National Social Studies Standards
X. Civic Ideals and Practices Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

Essential Skills for Social Studies
Acquiring Information
A. Reading Skills
1. Comprehension
2. Vocabulary
B. Study Skills
1. Find Information
2. Arrange Information in Usable Forms
C. Reference & Information-Search Skills
2. Special References
D. Technical Skills Unique to Electronic Devices
1. Computer Organizing and Using Information
A. Thinking Skills
1. Classify Information
2. Interpret Information
3. Analyze Information
4. Summarize Information
5. Synthesize Information
6. Evaluate Information
B. Decision-Making Skills
C. Metacognitive Skills

Interpersonal Relationships & Social Participation
A. Personal Skills
C. Social and Political Participation Skills

Democratic Beliefs and Values
B. Freedoms of the Individual
C. Responsibilities of the Individual

National Mathematics Standards
Number and Operations Standard
Algebra Standard
Data Analysis and Probability Standard
Process Standards
Problem Solving Standard
Connections Standard

National Educational Technology Standards
Profiles for Technology Literate Students
Performance Indicators
2. Make informed choices among technology systems, resources, and services.
7. Routinely and efficiently use online information resources to meet needs for collaboration, research, publication, communication, and productivity.
8. Select and apply technology tools for research, information analysis, problem solving, and decision making in content learning.

Information Literacy Standards
Information Literacy
Standard 1 accesses information efficiently and effectively.
Standard 2 evaluates information critically and competently.
Standard 3 uses information accurately and creatively. Social Responsibility
Standard 7 recognizes the importance of information to a democratic society.
Standard 8 practices ethical behavior in regard to information and information technology.
Standard 9 participates effectively in groups to pursue and generate information.

English Language Arts Standards
Standard 1 Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment.
Standard 3 Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
Standard 5 Student employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
Standard 6 Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique and discuss print and non-print texts.
Standard 7 Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
Standard 8 Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
Standard 12 Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).