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News > World

Sanctuary Cities Have Upper Hand in Legal Battle Against Trump

  • Danielle Frank holds a sign as demonstrators gather at Washington Square Park to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump in New York, U.S., Jan. 25, 2017.

    Danielle Frank holds a sign as demonstrators gather at Washington Square Park to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump in New York, U.S., Jan. 25, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 January 2017

Silver lining of the week: Lawmakers didn't review Trump's executive orders, making them easy to legally dismantle.  

As U.S. President Donald Trump ramps up his attack on immigration, his executive order to cut federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities” protecting immigrants could face a number of legal and logistical loopholes.

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The executive order signed on Wednesday orders federal agencies to withhold grant money from around 300 cities and counties that block local law enforcement from targeting undocumented immigrants, or as White House Press Secretary Sean Spice put it, “harbor illegal immigrants.”

Spicer said that Trump will look at means to strip funding to cities and counties that “willfully refuse to comply” with his new plan to crack down on immigration, which also included ordering the construction of the infamous border wall between Mexico and the U.S. and increasing immigration authorities' power to deport people from the U.S., often without due process.

These measures have sparked outrage among many immigrant rights organizations and caused city mayors to speak out against them. Opponents likely have the law on their side. Politico reported that the White House failed to consult the proper federal agencies and lawmakers before signing the executive orders. This means the orders are likely fraught with contradictions to current laws that can be easily exploited by opponents to dismantle them.

The legal fight has already begun. Mayors of targeted cities are teaming up with immigration advocacy groups and attorneys to gear up for a legal battle against the presidential orders. Opponents of Trump’s order say that federal money allocated to cities can only be cut if the funding is directly linked to behavior that opposes the federal government’s plan for immigration.

“The president has very limited power to exercise any kind of significant defunding,” Peter L. Markowitz from the Immigration Justice Clinic told The New York Times. Referring to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, Markowitz argued that Congress cannot coerce states or localities to unwillfully participate in federal programs.

“You can’t say ‘if you don’t use your police officers to go after unauthorized immigrants, you don’t get any money for your hospitals.’ They can’t impose conditions that are totally unrelated,” Markowitz said.

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Trump's plan to make police and other key services exempt from any funding cuts has also sparked legal debate. Trump had previously stated that even if a city was stripped of funding for non-compliance, police departments' funding would not be cut. Opponents also say that making police exempt would make it possible for a judge to deem parts of the order unconstitutional.

Richard Doyle, city attorney in San Jose, California, argues that Trump cannot cut a city's funding for healthcare and education while protecting the police force from cuts because its function relates more closely to immigration enforcement, adding that it was uncertain whether only future or existing federal funding would be targeted under the order.

Others have argued that there would be significant barriers and a long process for the federal government to cut off funding to sanctuary cities that would first have to go through states and local government where targeted jurisdictions have rights to appeal.

Edward Waters from Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell in Washington told Reuters that for the Trump administration, “It’s fair to say that they don't understand the scope and reach of federal grants law.”

New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that Trump’s order is “written in a very vague fashion” and other cities are preparing how they can fight the order before the federal government moves to make funding cuts.

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While other sanctuary cities around the country – including Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles – are gearing up to fight the order, Carlos Gimenez, Mayor of Miami-Dade in Florida, was the first to comply with Trump’s wishes on Thursday.

Gimenez ordered the city’s jails to turn over undocumented immigration to Department of Homeland Security. Trump then tweeted that it was the “Right decision. Strong!”

While the city has never officially referred to itself as a sanctuary city, it previously refused to indefinitely detain illegal immigrants who were wanted by the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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