Defunding Sanctuary Cities For Being Sanctuary Cities Is Unconstitutional
Attorney general Jeff Sessions has vowed to cut Department of Justice grants to sanctuary cities. A sanctuary city is a city which permits residence by illegal immigrants to help them avoid deportation. Leaders of sanctuary cities want illegal immigrants to have less fear of deportation, so they will be more willing to report crimes, use health services or social welfare benefits and enroll their children in school. Municipal policies include prohibiting police or city employees from questioning people about their immigration status and not cooperating with the national government to enforce immigration law. Such policies can be set expressly in law (de jure) or observed in practice (de facto), but the designation “sanctuary city” does not have a precise legal definition.
On January 25th of this year, Trump signed an executive order that pledged to block federal funding to sanctuary cities. Mirren Gidda writes that should the executive order succeed in cutting funding to sanctuary cities, the government could see savings of $26.74 billion a year according to the organization Transparency America. Five states, 106 cities and more than 630 counties could possibly lose funding.
Department of Justice grants, what Sessions is able to cut, make up a fraction of the $26.74 billion. (The rest of the money comes from other federal departments, which may choose to similarly restrict funds.) Last year, the department gave $1 billion in funding to various states, and $136 million to certain cities and counties. According to Reuters, the money is usually spent on police forces and assisting victims of crime. Four sanctuary cities—New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York—collectively received $15 million in justice grants in 2016, the agency said.
Sanctuary Cities Are Protected By The Tenth Amendment
The tenth amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The federal government cannot make states or local governments enforce national laws. It can push them to do so by withholding funding, but not if a court deems it “coercive.”
In 2012, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that President Obama’s attempts to expand Medicaid (by cutting Medicaid funding to states unless they offered it to a wider group of people) was coercive. As long as these so called “sanctuary cities” (not in the Constitution) adhere to the constitution, they can’t be defunded for failing to conform to federal policies unrelated to the appropriation.