Scores of cities and counties that have refused to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in detaining or informing on illegal immigrants are bracing for what is likely to be a bitter battle with the incoming GOP administration over President-Elect Donald Trump’s vow to arrest and deport as many as three million illegal immigrants with criminal records.
Democratic mayors and police chiefs of major cities from Los Angeles to New York have long resisted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demands for cooperation in tracking and detaining illegal immigrants. Now they are vowing not to cooperate with Trump’s plan to arrest and deport nearly a quarter of the 11 million illegal immigrants who have criminal records or are deemed most dangerous to society – which some fear is just a prelude to more drastic action against undocumented immigrants.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio emerged from a meeting with Trump at Trump Tower Wednesday afternoon saying that while he would be “open minded as we continue substantive discussions,” he would “be swift to react anytime an action is taken that would undermine the people of New York City.”
But he made no distinction between legal and illegal immigration when he said he said, “I also know that New Yorkers will stand together and stand up for the needs of working people; we’re going to stand up for our immigrant brothers and sisters.”
The political stakes couldn’t be higher. Trump made mass deportation of illegal immigrants and the building of a wall along the southern border the central theme of his presidential campaign in defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton. He renewed that pledge last weekend, in the wake of his surprising victory.
But for the estimated 300 or more “sanctuary cities” and other jurisdictions that for years have provided relatively safe havens to illegal immigrants and their families, hundreds of millions of dollars’ of federal Justice Department grants and assistance are now in jeopardy as Trump and Republican leaders in Congress are threatening harsh economic retaliation.
“Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities,” Trump said this fall during a speech in Phoenix. “We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths.”
Sanctuary cities have been around since the 1980s, and they previously have come under fire from Republicans and even the Obama administration for refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, or for adopting policies to assure that illegal immigrants and their families are provided with social services. Those cities were thrust into the limelight again this year after a 32-year-old San Francisco woman, Kathryn Steinle, was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant with a felony record who had been deported five times.
Critics of sanctuary cities, including Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), the chair of a House appropriations subcommittee on justice, charge that those jurisdictions are in violation of federal statute for not cooperating with ICE and should be deemed ineligible for some federal aid.
The Department of Justice provides states with roughly $550 million a year in law enforcement and policing grants. About two thirds of that or $342 million goes to the ten largest sanctuary cities – including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami, according to figures compiled by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General.
A new Trump administration and a Republican controlled Congress could easily strip those cities of the law enforcement funding.
Yet Trump might raise the ante even more by going after billions of dollars’ worth of other federal grants and assistance to states with active sanctuary cities, according to conservative immigration reform advocates.
Last July, in something of a surprise move, the Justice Department adopted new policies that deny federal law enforcement grants to some “sanctuary cities.” According to a memorandum issued by the department’s Office of Justice Programs, cities that refuse to honor Section 1373 of the United States Code will no longer be eligible for the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG) and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) grants.
That provision of the law prohibits government entities and state officials “from taking action to prohibit or in any way restrict the maintenance or intergovernmental exchange of [immigration status] information, including through written or unwritten policies or practices.”
The Obama administration has generally pursued an aggressive policy of deportation. And Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, sharply criticized policies such as the one in San Francisco against non-cooperation with immigration officials, calling the stances “counterproductive and unacceptable.”
“If these sanctuary jurisdictions persist in obstructing enforcement, the potential is there to cut off even more federal funding,” Jessica Vaughan, director of policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, said in an interview on Wednesday. “And the potential is also there for other kinds of penalties.”
“For instance there may be grounds for the federal government to take legal action against them” she said, noting that the Obama administration at one point threatened Cook County in Illinois with such action, but didn’t follow through.
Vaughan said that most sheriffs and police departments around the country are “fully cooperative” with ICE in tracking or apprehending illegal immigrants, and that a relatively small number of jurisdictions are resisting. But unfortunately for federal authorities, the sanctuary cities contain the overwhelming number of illegal immigrants.
Roughly a quarter of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants reside in California, according to California state figures, with 500,000 alone living in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck declared on Monday that he has no intention of cooperating with the incoming president and his new government team. “We don’t make detentions or arrests based solely on status, whether that’s immigration status or any other status, Beck said in an interview with KNX-AM. “If the federal government takes a more aggressive role on deportation, then they’ll have to do that on their own.”
Bill de Blasio, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and Seattle's Ed Murray are among the other so called “sanctuary cities” officials who have signaled plans for mass resistance to Trump and have sought to ease the widespread concerns of the immigrant population.
During his first lengthy post-election interview with Leslie Stahl of CBS’s “60 Minutes” that was aired last Sunday, Trump said he intended to deport two million to three million undocumented immigrants who have criminal records.
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers – we have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million – we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate them,” Trump said.
While Trump’s guestimate of the criminal element among undocumented immigrants is far from precise, a Department of Homeland Security fiscal 2013 report stated that there were 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens.”