How Trump Could Rein in ‘Sanctuary’ California

President has wide array of legal, funding, and enforcement options to put heat on Golden State

by Jim Stinson | Updated 07 Feb 2017 at 7:56 AM

President Donald Trump is seriously considering cutting off federal funds to California if it declares itself a statewide “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants.

Trump first made the threat during an interview Sunday with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.

“Outside intervention is necessary. And it seems to me California is a good place to start.”

A “sanctuary” city or county is a jurisdiction that declines to cooperate with federal immigration officials or policies. California already has 40 such local governments, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But for the entire state of California to declare itself a sanctuary for illegal immigrants would be a massive affront that Trump could not ignore.

Trump has already signed an order to support immigration enforcement and punish sanctuary cities. The order makes clear that his administration will “ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable federal law do not receive federal funds, except as mandated by law.”

The president is, of course, limited in what he can do.

But it’s misleading for some in the media to suggest Trump faces near-insurmountable challenges in forcing California to comply. With a Republican Congress behind him, Trump could place significant fiscal pressure on California’s state and local governments.

Of the 168 counties where most of the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants live, 69 counties do not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold illegal immigrants in jail, according to The Washington Post. Those counties include Cook County, Illinois; Miami-Dade County, Florida; and San Francisco County, California.

The other 99 counties do. The majority of Texas counties regularly comply with ICE requests, the Post reports.

Other sanctuary cities or counties go out of their way not to share the immigration status of suspects with the feds. California, along with several other liberal states including Connecticut, are weighing bring sanctuary policies to a higher level.

Trump campaigned hard on deporting illegal immigrants, starting with the ones who are in and out of jails or prisons.

“If we have to, we’ll defund,” Trump told O’Reilly. “We give tremendous amounts of money to California. California in many ways is out of control, as you know … If they’re going to have sanctuary cities, we may have to do that. Certainly [withholding federal funds] would be a weapon.”

A Multistep Plan
For now, Trump has a bevy of options, according to Bob Dane, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

The options start with enforcing Title 8, Section 1373 of the U.S. Code.

That part of the law, more than 20 years old, states plainly that “a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

California cannot stop Trump from sending in new ICE officers to “target” California, while they step up enforcement.

Dane said Trump could not only enforce that law, but also begin freezing what federal funds he can legally hold up as president.

"Fortunately the Trump administration has lots of plays in their legal playbook to ratchet up pressure on sanctuary cities," said Andrew Good, policy analyst for NumbersUSA, a group which advocates for lower immigration levels. "Withholding State Criminal Alien Assistance Program funding is a natural starting point in the Department of Justice's effort to obtain compliance with the laws on the books. The attorney general already has broad power on SCAAP funding, among other programs, and could also get congressional support for even more funding streams."

The federal government gave $400 million in SCAAP funds, in 2010, to localities to help with the costs of jailing illegal immigrants. Some counties would likely feel little pain if the money was withheld.

But not Los Angeles County — it got more than $14 million in 2010. Oddly, Los Angeles County does not entirely comply with federal immigration policy, but it still gets the money.

Good said filing suit against these "lawless localities" is another option.

Lawsuits are a potentially unpleasant fate for sanctuary states and cities, as it means they must face scrutiny from Trump's Department of Justice. Dane does not expect Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator Trump has nominated to be attorney general, to let California or any sanctuary government off the hook.

California, debating new sanctuary policies, has boldly declared it is the capital of sanctuary policy. Immigration watchdogs say it should now expect the customary attention.

"Outside intervention is necessary," said Dane. "And it seems to me California is a good place to start."

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