Originially published Jan. 26.
Leaders ofsanctuary cities across America aren’t backing down after President Donald Trump vowed to cut funding to communities that offer safe harbor to undocumented immigrants.
In an executive order signed Wednesday the president directed the government to identify federal dollars it can withhold from so-called “sanctuary cities,” the term used for 300 or so cities and counties that shelter undocumented immigrants from deportation. While there is no legal definition for the term, these cities typically tell police not to inquire about immigration status, or they decline requests from immigration officials to keep non-violent defendants in custody while they await deportation.
Proponents of the policies say they protect the economy and keep families together.
For now, the threats are just a lot of hot air, some officials say. Exactly which funds the Trump administration plans to cut are still undetermined, but the president has said he would target any community with policies in place that protect illegal immigrants.
“Just so people know, what Trump did today is just theater. Hasn't actually cut anything because we have laws and he's not a king,” Joseph Curtatone, mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts, said Wednesday in response the executive order. Somerville, a city of 80,000, is adjacent to Boston, about one third of its residents are immigrants.
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Cities from Boston to San Francisco stand to lose billions if Trump follows through on his threats. Federal dollars pay for highways, subsidize school programs like free and reduced lunch and help take care of veterans and the elderly. It’s also money that goes toward anti-terrorism programs.
Boston receives about $250 million in federal funding annually, but Mayor Marty Walsh said his city would not bend to Trump’s attack.
"We will not back down from our values that make us who we are as a city," Walsh said. "We will fight for our residents, whether immigrant or not, and provide the best quality of life for all Bostonians. I will use all of my power within lawful means to protectallBoston residents —even if that means using City Hall itself as a last resort."
In New York, where $7 billion is on the line, Mayor Bill de Blasio slammed the executive order, vowing to bring the president to court if he follows through on funding cuts.
“If anything actually starts to move, the city of New York will take legal action to stop the executive order from hurting our city and our people,” he said in a news conference. “If that were ever attempted we would be in court immediately to stop it, and I know that will happen in cities all over the country.”
De Blasio isn’t the only one ready to battle it out in court.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman questioned the legality of Trump’s plan.
“The President lacks the constitutional authority to cut off funding to states and cities simply because they have lawfully acted to protect immigrant families… Local governments seeking to protect their immigrant communities from federal overreach have every right to do so,” he said.
There is no federal law that explicitly compels cities to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and civil rights groups said they would back municipal efforts fight punitive punishments.
“President Trump is threatening to punish localities for establishing constitutional safeguards and for protecting the public safety of their entire community. He may hope that local officials will buckle under his threats, but they have been preparing to defend their policies and we will stand with them in court,” Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said.
Citizens took to the streets in New York City in support of Muslims and undocumented immigrants following the news Wednesday. Another rally was planned for Thursday in Boston.
In Philadelphia, where about $400 million is on the line, Mayor Jim Kenney said he would stand by the city’s sanctuary policies.
"Today’s executive order is simply a directive, as the Trump administration hasn’t even identified yet what federal grant funding they think they could cut. Nothing about the city’s policy is changing as of today,” he said.
Joe DeFelice, chairman of Philadelphia’s Republican Party, fired back, calling sanctuary city policies “insane and illegal.”
“With President Trump’s welcome announcement that his administration will prioritize fighting this insane and illegal policy — specifically by withholding federal funds — Mayor Kenney endangers the fiscal health of the city as,” he said.