Sanctuary cities threat: Just how much could Trump cut?

REUTERS/Adam Bettcher
Demonstrators in Minneapolis marched on I-94 on Nov. 10 to protest President-elect Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s best-known campaign promise on immigration — the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — is embedded in the country’s collective memory at this point.

But the President-elect repeatedly made another promise, one marginally more feasible than building a wall and making Mexico pay for it: punishing so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions by denying them federal funds.

There is not a single definition of a sanctuary jurisdiction, but it applies to states, cities, and counties that have indicated they will not do the work of federal immigration authorities, or even ask individuals about their immigration status.

The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, are sanctuary jurisdictions. Could Trump really follow through on his defunding threat — and if he does, what would it mean for Minnesota’s sanctuary jurisdictions?

Cancelling ‘all funds’ a tough task

Taking action against sanctuary jurisdictions has become a popular idea within the Republican Party, but Trump elevated it into a central talking point on the campaign trail.

Trump, and many of his GOP primary rivals, singled out sanctuary cities as a significant public safety problem. (Local leaders like Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges disagree, saying that enforcing federal immigration law would hamstring local cops’ ability to serve the community.)

In his “Contract with the American Voter,” effectively a plan for the first 100 days of his presidency, Trump pledges to “cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities.”

But shutting off the flow of federal cash to sanctuary jurisdictions would be a complicated and difficult task.

There are a few ways the Trump administration could go about it: namely, through executive action and legislation. Both would be fraught with constitutional questions and congressional logistics, and could very well end up hurting Trump more than helping him.

Executive action would be easier, procedurally speaking. Certain U.S. Department of Justice grants are contingent upon local jurisdictions complying with federal law on immigration — particularly, a 1996 statute that prevents them from restricting feds’ access to information on an individual’s immigration status.

Trump could simply direct his DOJ to halt those grants, which include the $280 million Justice Assistant Grant program, for sanctuary jurisdictions, wrote Luca Marzorati at the Brookings Institute.

This would be a narrowly-focused punishment, but it would deprive local law enforcement agencies of funds important to their operations.

But a DOJ-targeted executive action could also be politically problematic for Trump, as it would single out and disproportionately hurt law enforcement — a constituency with which he has made a point to maintain good relations.

Congress, of course, has more flexibility, and with Trump in the White House lawmakers would have fewer hurdles to pass legislation defunding programs in sanctuary cities.

In June, several Republican senators, led by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced a bill called the “Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act.” It proposed depriving sanctuary jurisdictions from participation in some federal funds, like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

That program, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development since 1972, is a flexible grant that funds affordable housing and anti-poverty programs in communities.

It’s unlikely such a bill would make it through the Senate, where 60 votes would be a tough ask. The Toomey-Cruz bill was put to a vote in July, and fell seven votes short of the threshold needed to advance.

It’s also possible that the legislation, if it passed, could be threatened by a strong legal challenge. Several recent Supreme Court decisions affirm the notion that the federal government can’t use fiscal pressure to compel localities to cooperate with the federal government.

What it means for sanctuary budgets

Suppose that Trump and/or Congress successfully denies some federal funding to sanctuary jurisdictions, either through executive order or legislation.

It could have significant impact on Minnesota’s sanctuary jurisdictions, for whom federal funding is crucial toward administering certain programs.

Two percent of Minneapolis’ $1.3 billion budget, or $26 million, is made up of federal funds. The most significant federally funded projects, city officials say, are affordable housing programs.

Of St. Paul’s $548 million budget, 16.2 percent, or $93.2 million, is paid for with combined state and federal government funds. ($62.3 million of that is earmarked as “local government aid” from the state of Minnesota.)

Washington kicked in $6.4 million of Community Development Block Grant funding for St. Paul — the very program targeted by the GOP senators in their sanctuary bill — in fiscal year 2016.

In its 2016 budget, Hennepin County received $195.7 million from the federal government out of its total $1.93 billion budget. Much of that goes toward public health and nutrition programs. Of Ramsey County’s $660 million 2016 budget, federal funds account for $89.5 million, or 13.6 percent.

Local officials are most concerned about any efforts to deprive sanctuary jurisdictions of the CDBG funding, a reliable source of cash for important projects that provides welcome stability for long-term budget planning.

Minneapolis got $12.5 million in 2016 through the program, much of which goes toward funding affordable city housing and programs to support at-risk youth and vocational training.

If that grant were to suddenly be cut, the city government would be presented with some serious choices, says Mark Ruff, Minneapolis’ Chief Financial Officer — none of them good.

“If we don’t have federal resources, we have to cut that particular program, take the money from somewhere else, or raise taxes. Those are highly visible and highly impactful programs,” he says.

“It’d be difficult choices for the mayor and the City Council to make among those three for those programs, or we go to the county or state for funds, which is a fourth alternative.”

Law enforcement funding

If Trump targets federal law enforcement funding, Minneapolis stands to lose over $2 million. But officials say the particular DOJ grants that Trump threatens are less important, and less consistently needed, in Minneapolis than elsewhere.

Funding sources like the Justice Assistance Grant are useful from time to time, says Ruff. Recently, JAG funds provided body cameras for Minneapolis police officers.

“For us,” he adds, DOJ money “is not a major source of funding for our programs.”

Minneapolis officials acknowledge that Trump’s sanctuary city rhetoric has injected a new degree of uncertainty into their budget planning. But they cautioned Minneapolis residents to not panic and to wait until more details are released on the administration’s policy.

Gene Ranieri, Minneapolis’ Direct or of Intergovernmental Relations, says “It’s really hard to explain to a resident what the impact is going to be when you really don’t know. The President-elect started off in August saying I’m going to do ‘x’ on immigration, and all of a sudden he’s getting more toward the center.”

Ruff says that Minneapolis has six to eight months to plan for any action from the Trump administration or Congress, as the city typically unveils its budget in August. Congress will need to pass legislation funding the federal government in April.

“Until we get the specific language, it’s hard to react hypothetically,” Ruff said. “There’s a great deal of anxiety about what this administration may bring, and we want to see what reality will bring instead of just the anxiety.”

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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Bill Willy on 12/23/2016 - 01:53 pm.

    Drop the gun, Mr. President

    “Sanctuary Cities Are Safe, Thanks to Conservatives

    “President-elect Donald Trump says he will make ‘sanctuary cities’ help deport immigrants by taking away their federal funding if they don’t change their policies. The good news is that he and Congress can’t do it — not without violating the Constitution.”

    That’s how the Noah Feldman, Bloomberg View, article Sam Brodey pointed to begins. I’d (strongly) recommend anyone concerned about this issue (Mayors Hodges and Coleman, Mark Ruff, Gene Ranieri and city’s legal eagles, in particular) take a look at that article, if they haven’t already.

    As things go along there are two things that keep coming to mind.

    One is what Paul Udstrand said a while back about the incoherence that ensues when Republicans attempt to govern by ideology.

    The other is that moment during the Democratic convention when Kasier Kahn pulled that copy of the Constitution of his pocket and asked, “Have you ever read this, Mr. Trump?”

    At the time it just seemed like one of those (relatively spectacular) “gotcha moments,” but the closer we get to inauguration day, and the closer a person looks at some of the things the president-elect says he’s bent on doing (not to mention his and his cabinet’s whale-size conflict of interest situations), the more legitimate that question seems to be. Not that he hasn’t looked at, or maybe even read some or all of the Constitution at some point in his life, but if he has, it would appear that his “reading comprehension and retention skills” may not register in the upper percentiles.

    When it comes to Paul’s observation, I keep thinking we’re about to get a world-class demonstration of what happens when a constitutionally-challenged president (who will be in violation of it the moment he’s sworn-in if those conflict of interest wrinkles aren’t ironed out in the next three weeks) and a Kool Aid-saturated Congress go to work.

    Anyway . . . If you’re concerned about possible funding cuts be sure to take a look at that Bloomberg article.

  2. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/23/2016 - 07:07 pm.


    So how come Arizona was sued by the DOJ for trying to help the Feds with immigration enforcement and sanctuary cities never were for fighting AGAINST immigration enforcement? So yes, something may be done about sanctuary cities… On the other hand, their argument that informing the Feds about illegal immigrants arrested for some crimes would prevent cooperation between police and communities is weird to say the least because police needs cooperation from witnesses and complainants, not criminals. So how about admitting that the only reason for sanctuary cities is ideology?

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/24/2016 - 07:39 am.

      How about getting informed?

      A quote from the MinnPost link in the article:

      “The only thing that sanctuary cities mean is that city police officers are prohibited from asking residents for immigration papers, or arresting them just because they live here without documents.”

      So when you make a statement referencing “their argument that informing the Feds about illegal immigrants arrested for some crimes” you are demonstrating your misunderstanding of the position of sanctuary cities.

      If someone is arrested for a crime and THEN is found to be here illegally, these municipalities will cooperate with ICE at that point.

      But they will not – in the absence of any other wrongdoing – do ICE’s job for them by simply checking up on the immigration status of citizens they happen to have contact with.

      Those who have committed other crimes for which they are arrested will be found out. Those who are living peacefully and productively will be left alone.

      THAT is what a “sanctuary city” is about.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/24/2016 - 09:17 am.

        Some sanctuary cities refuse to hand over people to ICE even when they are asked or when those people committed other crimes – just read the news. And that was my point: I was not talking about randomly grabbing people on the streets and asking for documentation so those who live peacefully and productively will be left alone by police (but not by their employers): I was talking about checking legal status of those who already committed some kind of crime or violation and therefore are stopped by police.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/27/2016 - 12:47 pm.

          “Some sanctuary cities refuse . . .”

          At least one federal court has held that ICE detainer requests issued to local law enforcement are unlawful, in that they exceed the power of DHS. There are also Fourth Amendment issues about holding someone in custody pursuant to an administrative request (issued at the discretion of an agency) rather than a warrant (issued by a disinterested official, based on probable cause).

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 12/24/2016 - 09:35 am.

    Any city that protects ILLEGAL aliens

    that have committed a felony shouldn’t get a dime of our tax dollars! It is ridiculous that there is even a discussion on this subject… If you were staying in France illegally and committed a felonny, you would be praying they sent you back to the States. Nobody, anywhere has this idiotic policy besides 25 US cities that somehow feel they are so tolerant they will excuse felons who are here illegally… No wonder Trump won 90% of counties, regular folks see this policy as just plain stupid!

    • Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 12/25/2016 - 05:09 pm.


      you want local law enforcement to enforce federal laws, Which other federal laws do you want the police to enforce – maybe collecting federal taxes, that would be a good fit.
      The sociopath can bleat to people like you that he will defund sanctuary cities, except he, and his pathetic administration can’t actually do that.
      Finally, remember, being in this country without proper documentation is a civil offense, and not criminal, and it’s a misdemeanor: sorry to burst your tough guy bubble about all the felons and whatever. .

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 12/27/2016 - 06:21 am.

    Kurt, when you are in America illegally

    and you commit a felony, you should not get protection from being prosecuted. Why is that hard to understand? It has nothing to do with the fact you are here illegally, which is a crime, it has to do with you committing a felony here. Again, it shows how out of touch some liberals are with the rest of America.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/27/2016 - 05:27 pm.


      “It has nothing to do with the fact you are here illegally, which is a crime, it has to do with you committing a felony here.” If there is probable cause to suspect any person–regardless of their immigration status–within the United States of committing a felony, they should be prosecuted (The presumption of innocence may continue to apply in Trump’s America–we’ll have to see). However, being here illegally is NOT a crime. It is a crime to enter without the proper authorization, but a person who enters legally but whose continued presence here is unlawful (e.g. overstaying a visa) is not committing an crime.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/27/2016 - 08:34 pm.

        The difference

        Mr. Holbrook, you are correct that one federal court said that keeping illegal immigrants for ICE is unlawful but, first, it does not apply to the entire country and, second, DOJ should fight it all the way to the Supreme Court… but Obama’s DOJ doesn’t want to do it even though they happily took Arizona all the way to the Supreme Court for wanting to help them. And regardless, the problem occurs when sanctuary cities state that they would not cooperate with ICE, never ever… including warrants.

        Will you also explain to me this “not a crime” idea? Are you saying that overstaying a visa is not a violation of the law? As for distinguishing between “entering without proper documentation,” which is a crime and staying here after entering without documentation, which is not, it is similar to a claim that while theft is a crime, having stolen goods is not so the thieves who were not caught stealing should be left alone… Similarly, someone who manages to escape police after a high speed chase should be free to go because after the chase that person does not violate any laws…

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/28/2016 - 01:07 pm.

          The Difference

          “Will you also explain to me this ‘not a crime’ idea?” Gladly. An action (or inaction) is not a crime unless there is a statute that says it is a crime. There is no statute that says, for example, “any person present in the United States without legal authorization is guilty of a felony . . .” “Overstaying a visa” is unlawful, but it is not a crime, in that a person who is present here unlawfully is not subject to criminal penalties (removal is not a criminal penalty).

          Apart from the short-term, visceral satisfaction of kicking foreigners’ butts, criminalizing unlawful presence in the United States would cause more problems than it would solve. A criminal prosecution would trigger the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments–the whole Bill of Rights criminal megillah. A prosecution would have to start with a grand jury indictment, of each and every person to be prosecuted. Counsel for the defense would be constitutionally required. Etc. In contrast, removal proceedings are civil administrative actions that can be done relatively quickly and easily.

          “DOJ should fight it all the way to the Supreme Court . . .” ICE is not part of the DOJ, but that is not important. I find it disturbing that you are willing to say law enforcement should be directed to hold a person solely on the basis of a detainer request. The 4th Amendment concerns aside (and, I should note, the language of that Amendment is pretty clear on when a person may be detained), the idea of a person being held in custody because some bureaucrat says so, without any check on that power, is more authoritarian than I can abide.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/28/2016 - 02:22 pm.

            And Another Thing!

            “As for distinguishing between “entering without proper documentation,” which is a crime and staying here after entering without documentation, which is not, it is similar to a claim that while theft is a crime, having stolen goods is not so the thieves who were not caught stealing should be left alone…” Well, no. There are statutes that explicitly criminalize the possession of any stolen property or property obtained by robbery, knowing or having reason to know it was stolen or obtained by robbery. As I said before, an action or inaction is not a crime unless there is a statute that explicitly makes it criminal.

            • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/28/2016 - 06:36 pm.

              I agree, if there is no statute (or rule, or ordinance) against an action, it is not a crime. However, it does not negate previous crimes. Again, a theft and a bank robbery are crimes but possessing stolen goods or money is not (knowingly obtaining stolen goods is a crime). So a bank robber who stole money is still a criminal even if he never robs a bank again. The difference between unlawful behavior and a crime in case of overstaying a visa is irrelevant since no one wants to incarcerate those people, just remove them from the country which may and should be done administratively because, as you said, staying here without a visa is not a crime. So we totally agree here – I just want the law to be applied and many people, including Obama, do not… which makes many people mad so they vote for Trump.

              I believe it was DOJ which sued the State of Arizona because DOJ takes care of all legal matters for the federal government. And sanctuary cities do not want to honor federal warrants… As for detainer request, they shouldn’t wait for that and just hand people over to ICE to deport… administratively.

    • Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 12/27/2016 - 08:15 pm.


      said you shouldn’t, but thanks for reading so carefully. What local law enforecement cannot do is act as federal agents, and only the federal government can enforce immigration.
      Maybe you’re one of those 10th A guys, who believe state’s have rights, well except in this case right Joe. Can’t have it both ways. Either states have rights, and that includes the right to not act as federal agents, or they don’t. Which is it. Oh, and your patron Saint, the late Justice Scalia liked states rights, including sanctuary cities.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/28/2016 - 06:37 pm.


        Do you mean that if the Feds look for a terrorist, the States have the right to not help?

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/29/2016 - 03:33 pm.


          It’s a moot point, since most terrorist acts (violent crimes, conspiracies, etc.) are also crimes under state law.

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