U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order directing federal agencies to take away funding from self-proclaimed sanctuary cities had one big exemption for one of his favorite constituencies: the police, who would be protected from cuts.
But Trump's opponents say that very exemption makes it much more likely that a judge could strike down that section of the order as unconstitutional.
It is just one example of the legal arguments that cities, immigration groups and other opponents are readying as they prepare to fight an executive order signed by Trump on Wednesday that would cut federal aid to "sanctuary" jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Lawyers for the potential challengers pointed to court rulings that said the federal government can only withhold funds to local jurisdictions if the money is directly tied to the behavior it objects to.
Trump's order directed that funding be slashed to all jurisdictions that refuse to comply with a statute that requires local governments to share information with immigration authorities.
The Trump administration cannot cut funds for sanctuary cities' healthcare and education while preserving money for police, since those jobs relate more closely to immigration enforcement, said Richard Doyle, city attorney in San Jose, California. He said it was not clear whether existing federal funding or only future grants would be targeted.
Supporters of the new president's actions say that sanctuary cities ignore federal law and think the White House will be able to answer with a strong case in court.
Federal law allows Trump to restrict public assistance "of any kind where an illegal alien could possibly benefit," said Dale Wilcox, executive director of the Washington-based conservative Immigration Reform Law Institute.
There could also be procedural snarls to implementing the cuts, lawyers who specialize in federal grants said. If the U.S. government seeks to cut off grants to a certain recipient, it must go through a complicated process known as "suspension and debarment," and cities would have the right to appeal.The White House would also have to negotiate with states that are home to sanctuary cities. Nearly 90 percent of US$652 billion the federal government handed out through more 1,500 separate grant programs in the most recent fiscal year went to states, not directly to cities, according to a Reuters review of federal spending data.