In a show of camaraderie and leadership, mayors of America’s largest cities are opposing measures by President Trump which target illegal immigrants for deportation. Opposing executive orders which many see as racist and unfair is a moral high-ground many of our cities’ leaders are taking, but this opposition is not well reasoned. Even though America’s cities have a different agenda than Republican Washington, this alone does not warrant the refusal of mayors to work with Washington; doing so will cause long-term harm to cities in exchange for a short-term political victory. The critical component of opposing the Trump doctrine is for cities to pick their battles.
Let’s begin by exploring the claim that mayors are looking out for their constituencies by opposing these executive orders from the Trump administration. Given at least four years of potentially damaging executive orders, more groups than illegal immigrant populations are going to be at risk. However, given the reliance of cities on federal funding and resources, mayors cannot risk fighting the Trump administration on every issue. Unfortunately, cities are facing a situation in which executive order after order will take aim at their populations; therefore, it is the job of mayors to oppose the administration and fight issues which are going to be the most harmful.
For instance, take the Trump administration’s push for federal mandatory minimums. These are sentencing laws that disproportionately affect the African American and Hispanic communities by creating excessively long jail sentences as well as posing a huge financial burden on large cities. For example, any amount of illegal drug possession can result in a minimum five year sentence, and African American and Hispanic communities are convicted of these crimes more than five times as much as other racial groups, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). As an issue that will impact minorities on a much greater scale, this should be higher on the agenda that fighting increased ICE deportations. Under threat of losing federal funding from fighting the Trump administration on one of its key campaign promises, mayors should instead work to fight the administration on equally important—if not more so—issues that the Trump administration has the political capital to compromise on.
A city that has a lot to lose from opposing the federal government is Chicago. ICE deportations are not nearly as prevalent in Chicago as in cities such as Los Angeles, yet the city is fighting Trump on the issue under threat of its federal funding being pulled. Chicago is a city on the brink of disaster because the South Side is overflowing with violence, the city has a drug problem, and it is dividing even further along racial lines. But it’s largest issue is that it is a city on the brink of bankruptcy. In the interest of protecting a few hundred people from deportation, Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel is jeopardizing so much more.
As reported in The LA Times in November, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, warned President-elect Trump that defunding sanctuary cities over this issue would cause “social, economic and security problems.” He also said that “programs targeting clean air and homeless funding may be jeopardized if federal money no longer comes in.” These effects would be amplified in Chicago, as without federal funding, not only would these programs no longer exist, but the city may go bankrupt.
Traditionally, cities and the federal government have a symbiotic relationship, and this relationship should be preserved by having local leaders focus on issues that are relevant to their communities. Examples include issues ranging from clean energy to sentencing laws. On the campaign trail, these issues were more of a footnote of Trump’s agenda, and therefore on these issues he isn’t risking losing the confidence of his voters if he were to give way on these issues. Therefore, mayors should shift their focus to covering these topics which are more negotiable and less likely to result in the cutting of vital funding, which can help preserve the overall agenda of our large cities instead of jeopardizing it.
The most effective action mayors can take to oppose the Trump doctrine is to pick their battles with the administration. Fighting over less important issues such as small-scale deportations and a temporary ban on refugees reduces the ability of cities to act in the future when more pressing issues that affect more people and with greater consequences arise. Just as cities are opposed to fully accepting Trump’s agenda, Trump is opposed to fully accepting the agenda of the city. Two political polar opposites have no choice but to find a balance.