Does the Trump administration have the legal power to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities? Below is an analysis of the legal battle. In sum, the battle is partly over whether sanctuary cities are in violation of federal statute for failing to detain persons arrested (San Francisco says no), and whether all federal funds or only a very small segment of them is at risk.
On January 25, President Trump said, “And finally, at long last, cracking down on Sanctuary Cities. It’s time to restore the civil rights of Americans to protect their jobs, their hopes, and their dreams for a much better future. Congress passed these laws to serve our citizens. It is about time those laws were properly enforced. They are not enforced.”
A law suit by San Francisco filed on January 31, in response to a Trump Administration executive order signed on January 25 sets out the legal parameters of the sanctuary city issue. The suit says that the Executive Order threatens the loss of $1.2 billion in Federal funds, 13% of the city’s annual budget.
“Sanctuary city” is an informal term with no legal meaning The SF suit describes what local orders generally do: “They specifically prohibit local law enforcement officers from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) detainer requests, which are voluntary, and limit when local law enforcement officers may give ICE advance notice of a person’s release from local jail.” SF is referring to its Administrative Code, Chapters 12H and 12I. A detainer request is a request by the federal government that a city detain in custody persons who have been arrested.
The Executive order says that sanctuary cites are in violation of Title 8, Section 1373 of the United States Code, “which provides that local governments may not prohibit or restrict any government entity or official from “sending to, or receiving from, [federal immigration officials] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status . . . of any individual.”
The SF suit says that it and other sanctuary cities are not in violation of this law. It cites a May 31, 2016 report by the Inspector General of the Justice Department on what constitutes a violation of Section 1373. The IG’s report includes examples of sanctuary city ordinances. It suggests that violation of Section 1373 puts at risk State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which for the top ten sanctuary jurisdictions came to $342 million in 2015.
The SF suit says that Section 1373 does not require cities to respond to requests by the federal government to detain persons. Further it says that “No federal funds received by San Francisco have statutory conditions specifically requiring compliance with Section 1373.”