Sanctuary Cities Resist Donald Trump’s Plan to Withhold Federal Funding

By Anonymous
Associate Editor, Vol. 22

From the outset of his presidential campaign, President-elect Donald Trump[1] took extreme stances on immigration.[2] He spoke about heavier enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent illegal crossings during his speech announcing his candidacy, claiming, “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” He also laid out plans to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, despite the fact that federal spending on Border Patrol has nearly tripled over the past 15 years, while apprehensions have fallen 79 percent, indicating a significantly reduced number of crossings. Additionally, Mr. Trump says that under his administration, people who cross the border illegally will be detained[3] until they are deported, rather than released and monitored.

Mr. Trump takes a hardline stance on internal enforcement, too. In September, he revealed plans to triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to create a “special deportation task force” designed to remove between 5 million and 6.5 million undocumented immigrants from the country. One component of his internal enforcement plan, step four of his “10 Point Plan to Put America First,” is to end sanctuary cities. This piece explores what potential effects this policy, if implemented, may have.

What are sanctuary cities?

The sanctuary city movement grew out of the Catholic church beginning in the early 1980s in response to concerns about refugees fleeing violence in Central America and being denied asylum in the U.S. While there is no formal legal definition of a sanctuary city, and each sanctuary city takes a slightly different approach, generally, sanctuary cities issue executive orders or adopt laws, resolutions, and policies that limit the extent to which local law enforcement and government agencies can assist the federal government on immigration matters. The concept extends to some college campuses, counties, and states as well. Sanctuary jurisdictions often have policies against detaining people on the basis of their immigration status if they would otherwise qualify for release. This means that an undocumented immigrant will not be deported because they were apprehended in relation to a traffic stop or a misdemeanor. It also protects undocumented immigrants who are victims of or witnesses to a crime from being deported if they report the crime to the police. This is motivated by the idea that police are better able to advance public safety when they are not de facto immigration agents, and sanctuary cities are safer than non-sanctuary cities.

Examples of specific sanctuary policies include San Francisco’s City and County of Refuge Ordinance, issued in 1989, which prohibits city and county employees from helping ICE agents with immigration investigations or arrests unless a federal law, state law, or warrant requires them to provide assistance. The Ordinance also prohibits city and county employees from asking about a persons’ immigration status, disclosing information about a persons’ immigration status, or conditioning services on a persons’ immigration status. San Francisco strengthened its stance on protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants with the Due Process for All Ordinance in 2013. An executive order issued by Mayor Washington in 1985 and a City Ordinance passed under Mayor Emmanuel in 2012 lay out similar policies for Chicago.

Which U.S. states and cities are currently sanctuaries?

According to Sarah Saldana, the Director of ICE, there are over 200 sanctuary jurisdictions in the U.S. However, since the concept of a sanctuary jurisdiction remains legally undefined, it is difficult to compile a comprehensive list of cities, counties, and states that are sanctuaries. This source helps identify states that have adopted immigrant friendly policies with regard to access to identification, education, social services, employment, and policing. States commonly considered sanctuary states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, and Rhode Island. Major cities with immigrant friendly policies include Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. These cities vary widely in the extent to which their policies protect undocumented immigrants from detention and deportation.

What is Mr. Trump’s plan for sanctuary cities?

Mr. Trump’s Contract with the American Voter includes a list of five actions to “restore security and the constitutional rule of law.” The third is to cancel federal funding to all sanctuary cities. Mr. Trump spoke about this plan on the campaign trail, saying he would “block funding for sanctuary cities. We block the funding. No more funding. Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.” However, Mr. Trump would need the express approval of Congress to withhold federal funds related to mandatory expenditure programs from local governments. Mr. Trump will have more control over the distribution of discretionary funding and grant money. When Mr. Trump appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes in his first post-election television interview, he discussed immigration, but notably missing from his comments was any mention of ending sanctuary cities.

How are sanctuary cities responding?

Many sanctuary cities have responded to Mr. Trump’s election by declaring that, despite Mr. Trump’s proposed policy, they will continue to shelter undocumented immigrants from detention and deportation and provide opportunities for undocumented immigrants to access certain government services. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came to the defense of undocumented New Yorkers, saying “We are not going to sacrifice a half a million people who live among us, who are part of our community. We are not going to tear families apart.” He also said that he would not turn over a database containing identifying information of undocumented immigrants who have received IDNYC cards without a “real fight,” implying he may delete the database before providing it to the federal government.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered reassurance to his constituents: “To all those who are, after Tuesday’s election, very nervous and filled with anxiety . . . you are safe in Chicago, you are secure in Chicago and you are supported in Chicago. Chicago has in the past been a sanctuary city . . . It always will be a sanctuary city.” Mayor Emanuel expressed doubts about whether Mr. Trump would go through with his proposal to defund sanctuary cities, saying “I would say to the president-elect, that the idea that you’re going to penalize Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia—these are the economic, cultural, and intellectual energy of this country.” Mayors and mayors-elect in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Boston, Portland, Seattle, Detroit, and Denver have also made statements standing behind sanctuary policies.

However, leaders in several cities have expressed more concern about how the policy could affect them. The Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office and Police Department issued statements asserting that they are a “welcoming city” rather than a sanctuary city. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez also denied that Miami is a sanctuary city. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu also resisted the label.

Locally, students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor are circulating a letter to University President Mark Schlissel and Provost Martha Pollack requesting that they put policies in place to make the University of Michigan a sanctuary campus. If you are a University of Michigan student, alumnus, faculty, or staff member and you would like to express your support for this proposal, you can sign the letter here.


For more on this topic, see Raina Bhatt’s note entitled “Pushing An End to Sanctuary Cities: Will it Happen?” in MJR&L’s upcoming Volume 22.1 publication.


[1] Mr. Trump is known for engaging in behavior and making comments that are racist (see his history of engaging in housing discrimination, his comments questioning the qualifications of a Hispanic judge on the basis of ethnicity, his history of associating with members of the KKK, and his birther conspiracy about President Obama), misogynistic (see his graphic comments bragging about sexual assault, the many allegations that he committed sexual assault, and his comments on pregnancy as an inconvenience to employers), homophobic (see his position on nationwide marriage equality and the vice president-elect’s history of homophobia), Islamophobic (see his accusations that Muslim-Americans ignore terror plots, his plan to ban Muslims from entering the country, his failure to respond to concerns about mounting Islamophobia, and his plans to profile Muslims), anti-Semitic (see his anti-Semitic tweet and campaign advertisement), xenophobic (see his descriptions of immigrants and scapegoating), and ableist (see him mocking a disabled reporter). His election has inspired a surge in hate crimes across the U.S. While this piece contemplates the potential effects of only one of Mr. Trump’s many problematic policy proposals, the author encourages readers to research his other policy proposals and consider which civil liberties they violate and what groups they threaten.

[2] Mr. Trump relies on racist and xenophobic rhetoric to justify his stance on immigration. He has repeatedly described immigrants, especially Mexican immigrants, as rapists, murderers, drug runners, and “criminal aliens freely roaming our streets.

[3] This is problematic not only because it deprives individuals of their liberty without due process, but also because conditions in immigration detention centers are inhumane and unsafe.

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