Sanctuary cities in danger of losing federal funding

Since president-elect Donald Trump promised to end federal funding to sanctuary cities many city and county leaders around the country have been wondering what that might mean for them. The term sanctuary city doesn’t have a legal definition. Jurisdictions that consider themselves sanctuary cities generally have policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center has identified 364 counties and 39 cities that have policies limiting cooperation with federal immigration officials. For many jurisdictions, this means declining to hold suspected undocumented immigrants past their scheduled release dates. Some jurisdictions have laws preventing police officers from asking the immigration status of residents. Often this policy is implemented to encourage immigrant communities to report crimes or cooperate with police.

The president-elect and many other proponents of tougher immigration enforcement have said sanctuary city policies allow criminals to go free. Undocumented immigrants could commit more crimes that would have been prevented if they had been deported.

The federal funding in danger of being pulled has not been specified. Federal law currently prohibits any agency from restraining the exchange of information among federal, state and local agencies regarding the immigration status of individuals. The code specifies jurisdictions in violation could be denied grants from the justice department. The federal funding in question could be limited to some justice department funds for police departments or a new federal policy could be created to include all federal funding going to jurisdictions designated as sanctuary cities.

San Francisco is a high-profile sanctuary city with $1 billion, or 10 percent of the city’s budget, coming directly from the federal government or from state programs using federal funds. The city has had laws in place to protect undocumented immigrants for 27 years. In 2005, in a case Trump has referred to multiple times as a reason for ending sanctuary cities, an undocumented immigrant allegedly killed a San Francisco woman after being released from sheriff’s custody.

“We have been and always will be a city of refuge, a city of sanctuary, a city of love,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee at a recent unity rally.

The San Francisco Police Department receives around $52 million from the state and $2.8 million directly from the federal government. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department receives around $27.5 million from the state and $100,000 from the federal government.

Federal funding accounts for 25 percent of the budget for the District of Columbia, which makes it the sanctuary city with the largest percent of its budget in danger. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser reaffirmed the District’s designation as a sanctuary city in November. The city has a policy not to ask residents about their immigration status.

Denver received $175 million of its city budget from federal funding. Of that $5.4 million has come from justice department funds. The police department released a recent statement that read “Immigration enforcement is handled at the federal level — not by local law enforcement. The Denver Police Department has not participated in those enforcement efforts in the past and will not be involved in the future.”

Critics of sanctuary cities were quick to respond to statements issued by many jurisdictions indicating no change in policies that could be considered providing sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke recently wrote an opinion column, published in The Hill, in which he took on the leaders of sanctuary cities. Suggesting leaders of sanctuary cities could be prosecuted for their policies.

“It’s time for stand up for the existing federal rule of law. We must have zero-tolerance for people coming into the United States illegally and setting up residence. The first prosecution and conviction of one of these governors, mayors or university presidents vowing to be a sanctuary for illegal aliens will cause all but those wanting to be sacrificial lambs for the cause to cease this dangerous and willful disregard for our nation’s sovereignty.”


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