Trump Armed with $100 Million in Sanctuary City Leverage

New study outlines huge range of tools, revenue available for crack down on rogue jurisdictions

When President-Elect Donald Trump takes office next month, he will have plenty of options for fulfilling his campaign promise to crack down on “sanctuary” cities — with funding cuts only the most obvious — according to a report released Wednesday.

The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that there are more than 300 sanctuary jurisdictions, defined as cities, counties, and states that impede federal efforts to enforce immigration laws. Jessica Vaughan said the Trump administration can reverse most of those policies through a “combination of carrots and sticks.”

“Right now, they’re playing chicken with DOJ.”

Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based think tank, said the most obvious step — one promised repeatedly by Trump on the campaign trail — is to cut off funding for renegade jurisdictions. But she said many jurisdictions have adopted policies based on confusion and fear of litigation by immigration advocacy groups.

“There is a whole spectrum of policies,” she said. “Legislation would help, but a lot of this would be helped by a clarification of what the expectations are.”

Vaughan estimated that about 10 to 20 large and medium-sized cities plus a “bunch” of small cities are hard-core sanctuary jurisdictions whose elected officials will fight hard to hold onto their policies. For those, the federal government has a vast array of funding sources that it could shut off.

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[lz_table title=”Sanctuary Jurisdictions and Justice Department Grants” source=”Center for Immigration Studies”]Jurisdiction,FY ’16,FY 06-15
New Orleans (La.),$265K,$5.3M
New York,$14.9M,$211.5M
Miami-Dade (Fla.),$1.5M,$11.6M
Clark County (Nev.),$1.6M,25.7M

The Justice Department already has put jurisdictions on notice that they will lose funding under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program and the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program if they do not change their policies by June 30 of next year. Ten large jurisdictions highlighted in a report by the department’s inspector general received $96.1 million in grants from the program in fiscal year 2016 and more than $1.7 billion in the previous 10 years.

The report identifies other federal funding sources. The Department of Homeland Security, the agency in charged of immigration enforcement, handed out over $1 billion in 2015 to state and local jurisdictions. Non-immigration federal agencies could cut off grants, as well.

Other measures that could be taken by the Trump administration include:

  • Clarifying that local jurisdictions are expected to honor requests to hold criminals wanted by immigration authorities for deportation. Currently, some jurisdictions view compliance as voluntary.
  • Suing recalcitrant jurisdictions and seeking civil judgments and settlements.
  • If requested, issuing administrative warrants to accompany so-called “detainers” requesting that illegal immigrants in jails and prisons be turned over to immigration authorities. That can serve as a compromise with local jurisdictions that believe they need something stronger than a detainer.
  • Generating public opposition to sanctuary jurisdictions by directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to produce a weekly list of illegal immigrants convicted of crimes who have been released from jails and prisons. Those lists should include names of the illegal immigrants, along with details of their criminal records.
  • Revoking certifications for various authorizations, such as the ability to enroll foreign students on campuses that declare themselves to be sanctuaries.
  • Rescinding “prosecutorial discretion” and “priority enforcement program” policies initiated by the Obama administration, which Vaughan argues have encouraged sanctuary cities.
  • Filing criminal charges against local officials under statutes outlawing the harboring of illegal aliens.

A number of mayors defiantly announced following Trump’s election that they would not change their sanctuary policies. But Vaughan said even the most obstinate cities would find it hard to give up millions of dollars in federal funds and pay exorbitant legal fees fighting the federal government in court.

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“Right now, they’re playing chicken with [the Justice Department],” she said.

The report also challenges one of the oft-cited justifications for sanctuary polices — that cooperating with immigration authorities will have a “chilling” effect on crime reporting, as fearful immigrants retreat to the shadows.

But the report cites a number of studies that failed to spot different reporting rates in native and foreign-born populations, even during times of more aggressive immigration enforcement.

“I don’t think it’s true,” Vaughan said. “It just doesn’t seem to be happening.”

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