<span class="articleLocation”>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.
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 Republican 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.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for
‘LESS THAN MEETS THE EYE’
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio in a news conference
said his chief legal officer would be in court the “hour” after
any specific action to withhold money came through.
“There is less here than meets the eye. This executive order
is written in a very vague fashion,” said de Blasio, a Democrat.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, also a Democrat,
said his office was still examining whether it could sue before
Trump made any specific move to cut funds.
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
Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties
Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the cities can argue “they are fully in compliance with that statute,” since they do
share information with federal authorities, but offer limited
cooperation when it comes to turning over immigrants who are not
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.
“It’s fair to say that they don’t understand the scope and
reach of federal grants law,” said Edward Waters, who heads the
federal grants practice at the law firm Feldesman Tucker Leifer
Fidell in Washington, referring to the Trump administration.
The White House would also have to negotiate with states
that are home to sanctuary cities. Nearly 90 percent of $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.
If the Trump administration wanted to try to cut off
Medicaid money to Chicago, for example, it would have to work
through the state government of Illinois, which could pose an
additional barrier, Waters said.
Advocacy groups for immigrants’ rights said they are also
preparing their own legal challenges to other aspects of two
executive orders Trump signed on Wednesday, examining sections
that deal with expanding detention of immigrants and changing
how asylum requests are processed.
“All of our legal research is done, most of the complaints
are all drafted,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of
the National Immigration Law Center, based in Los Angeles. She
said litigation could be filed in the next days. (Additional reporting by Hillary Russ in New York)
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