Written on behalf of Brian S. Kabateck
February 17, 2017
A wave of arrests involving undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles and cities nationwide has ignited fear and sparked demonstrations by immigration advocates who are worried about maintaining sanctuary status. A sanctuary city is loosely defined as a municipality that declares itself a refuge for people without papers by offering practical protections and political support in an effort to keep the undocumented community out of the shadows. This policy has been credited with helping law enforcement solve more crimes because if an undocumented person doesn’t fear deportation, he or she is more willing to corporate with a criminal investigation.
It’s unclear if these recent roundups are a result of the Trump administration’s vow to crack down on illegal immigration or are a routine procedure. However, according to the Hispanic Caucus, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirms it went “broader” on immigration arrests aimed at targeting criminals.
These operations are a growing concern for sanctuary cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Takoma Park, MD, Cambridge, MA, and Chapel Hill, NC, which vow to continue sheltering undocumented residents by refusing to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, despite President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Trump wants to tighten border control and provide additional funding for immigration forces. He’s threatening to punish cities and other municipalities that fail to comply with his executive order by withholding federal money. According to a recently released report by the Pew Research Center, Los Angeles and Orange County are home to 1 million undocumented people. Nationwide, there are hundreds of jurisdictions that have some sort of sanctuary policy and at least 100 of those municipalities accept federal funding.
Many are wondering whether Trump’s defunding threat is actually legal. First, it’s important to know that the largest source of federal funding to the states cannot be withheld, which includes Social Security and healthcare programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
Also off the table are additional federal funds reserved for highway projects, aid to needy schools, along with other programs such as subsidized housing, heating subsidies for the poor and food stamps. The funds that could be withheld come from discretionary grant programs such as sewer and water grants distributed by the EPA, money for first responders such as firefighters, and special transportation grants established under President Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus bill.
Legal precedent states the federal government must establish a specific tie between the funding it may cut off and what it is demanding of the state. Using that narrow definition, banning funds for sanctuary cities could be curtailed to only a small number of programs within the departments of Justice and Homeland Security. Some of those programs on the chopping block could include funds to hire police, grants for legal assistance and programs that help victims of domestic violence. The move will certainly prompt legal challenges.
San Francisco is the first city in the nation to file a lawsuit challenging Trump’s executive order, alleging it’s unconstitutional and exceeds the President’s power. Mayors of the nation’s largest sanctuary cities are vowing to fight the order, arguing it will dismantle the fragile relationships between immigrant communities and law enforcement as well as separate families.
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