While the flurry of executive orders from President Donald Trump in the past couple weeks was highlighted by his travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, another of his executive orders that has flown under the radar is one concerning sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are cities or counties that do not comply with federal immigration authorities. For instance, they may refuse to hand over illegal immigrants for deportation. Of the 168 counties or cities in the U.S. where most illegal immigrants reside, 69 are sanctuary cities, including areas such as New York City, Denver, and Los Angeles.
These cities and counties shelter some of the most vulnerable people in the United States who do not have access to many government services, such as a driver’s license or welfare programs. Asking municipalities with limited budgets to spend money to detain illegal immigrants is wasteful when these cities could be using that money to actually make neighborhoods safer. Contrary to what President Trump claims, the American Immigration Council has stated that illegal immigrants are 20-50 percent less likely to commit crimes than citizens.
In his executive order, Trump vaguely stated that he would take away federal funding from sanctuary cities without detailing the processes by which he would do so, only saying he would keep funds “as mandated by federal law.” At first look, sanctuary cities should be scared; New York City, for instance, receives $10.4 billion in federal funding, some of which Trump could potentially take away. However, in this case, cities should resist the financial pressure of Trump and take a stand against him, as they have grounds to do so legally and politically even if it may seem beneficial for politicians to save political capital.
In the 1986 Supreme Court ruling South Dakota v. Dole, the court ruled that the federal government could only withhold federal funding from a project if it was relevant to the federal interest of the project. Simply put, the federal government could withhold funding if they thought federal funding wasn’t being well spent to achieve the goal of a project, but they could not withhold it if they just decided they didn’t like the goals of a project. Trump isn’t proposing withholding funds for a specific project, but rather using funding as a bargaining chip in order to buy support for his blanket immigration policy.
Additionally, almost all sanctuary cities are places that have significant illegal immigrant populations that may not be able to vote, but still have sizeable political power. They are a constituency that politicians must serve and represent because they live and interact with citizens who do have the ability to vote for elected officials, and it would thus benefit local officials to listen to the needs of immigrants. Also, there is strong support for illegal immigrants among the populations of sanctuary cities (which lean liberal), so by going along with Trump’s executive order, local officials risk losing support.
It may appear prudent to the leaders of sanctuary cities to save their political capital and not fight President Trump on this executive order. But these leaders are risking the lives of some of the most vulnerable Americans by potentially getting them deported back to lands where they face appalling violence and poverty from gangs and a lack of government stability. A president who uses his power to aggressively and arbitrarily persecute undocumented immigrants deserves strong opposition, and that is what cities must bring to Donald Trump.