President Donald Trump took his first big steps on Wednesday towards strengthening the border and increasing the pressure on millions of illegal immigrants in the country.
During an afternoon appearance at the Department of Homeland Security, Trump issued executive orders to authorize construction of a much ballyhooed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, hire 5,000 more border patrol agents, and restore a “secure communities” program that grants the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency wider latitude in targeting illegal immigrants for detainment and deportation.
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And in a retaliatory move against scores of cities across the country that have refused to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in detaining illegal immigrants, Trump ordered cuts in potentially billions of dollars’ worth of Department of Justice, Homeland Security and other federal grants to those communities.
“We’re going to strip federal grant money from the sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters. “The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize this disregard for our laws.”
The order, titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” declares that cities that fail to comply with federal immigration enforcement agents “are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.”
The document also says that the director of the Office of Management and Budget will be responsible for obtaining “relevant and responsive information” on all federal grant money that currently flows to any sanctuary jurisdiction.
With an assist from the GOP-controlled Congress, Trump can punish as many as 300 “sanctuary cities” that are protecting illegal immigrant by cutting off grants of more than $1 billion a year from the Justice Department and $1 billion from the Department of Homeland Security, according to policy experts.
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Those grants range from funding for enhanced community policy services, criminal prosecution, sheltering battered women and compensating crime victims to urban area security initiatives, funding for first responders and even local and state efforts at border security, according to a summary compiled by USA Today.
Democratic mayors and police chiefs of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, among others, have long resisted federal demands for cooperation in tracking and detaining illegal immigrants. Now, as Trump begins to ramp up his promised crackdown on illegal immigrants and tightening of security, these ity officials are vowing not to cooperate with Trump’s plans to arrest and deport nearly a quarter of the 11 million illegal immigrants who have criminal records or are deemed dangerous to society.
Within days of Trump’s election last November, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio strongly signaled they would stand by their illegal immigrant populations. Emanuel created a task force to help undocumented immigrants and pledged $1 million for a legal defense fund. “Chicago will always be a sanctuary city,” Emanuel declared.
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 came under fire again last 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.
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Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Trump’s choice as Attorney General, introduced a bill in 2015 aimed at cutting off Department of Justice and Homeland Security grants to cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Sessions can be counted on to aggressively implement Trump’s retaliatory executive order if he is confirmed to head the Justice Department. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) argued that the punishment should be broadened to include community and economic development funds.
Toomey introduced a bill in 2015 that would have denied sanctuary cities their share of roughly $3 billion a year in community development block grants and $238 million of economic development administration grants. The new administration might dust off that proposal.
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Trump complained this afternoon that many Americans have been victimized or killed by illegal immigrants, while millions of undocumented residents are “rewarded” with legal protection and social programs. “For years the media has largely ignored the stories of Americans and lawful residents victimized by open borders,” Trump said. “To all of those hurting out there, I repeat to you these words: We hear you, we see you and you will never, ever be ignored again.”
Lazaro Zamora, a senior policy adviser and immigration expert with the Bipartisan Policy Center, describes the threat of a loss of funds a “meat-axe” approach to addressing a long-standing feud between federal and local officials that won’t be resolved through bitter fighting.
Trump and his advisers are trying to enforce their immigration policies “by kind of bashing the states over the head with counter-productive measures that may just make everything worse and put state and local police officers in a more defensive position,” he said in an interview. “There is a long history here and there’s a lot of ego and territorial attitude in law enforcement, and part of that has been dealing with this issue of where is the line between federal immigration enforcement and police officers.”
There is little question Trump can punish sanctuary cities financially, and he appears determined to following through on his executive order. But in so doing, he may be punishing the very same local police and law enforcement officials he has vowed to champion as a “law and order” commander in chief.
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“The devil is in the detail here,” said Laurie Robinson, a former Justice Department official who now teaches at George Mason University. “At a time when our law enforcement officers need support, it’s slightly counter-productive to cut the resources to police.”
What’s more, she said, slashing Justice Department and Homeland Security grants to sanctuary cities and communities would have a serious, adverse impact on vocal and important constituencies, especially victims of crime who qualify for compensation.
“That would be very, very sensitive because this is directly assisting crime victims, and that’s an extraordinarily strong constituency, a very vocal constituency, and one that has had strong support in the conservative community,” Robinson said, noting that the Justice Department crime victims assistance office was originally created by President Ronald Reagan.