How Much Funding for Sanctuary Jurisdictions Could Be at Risk?

Protesters take part in a rally to support sanctuary cities and oppose a border wall on February 28, 2017, in Austin, Texas.

All across the nation, more than 600 cities and counties, as well as a handful of states, have adopted policies that limit the extent of assistance they will provide federal immigration enforcement officers, recognizing that they—rather than the federal government—know what is best for the safety and security of their communities. Recent research finds, for example, that counties with sanctuary policies experience less crime and stronger economies than those without the policies. Nonetheless, on January 25, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing the Office of Management and Budget to compile a list of federal funds given to sanctuary jurisdictions. It also directed the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of homeland security to ensure that such jurisdictions be deemed ineligible for most federal grants and further commanded the attorney general to “take appropriate enforcement action” against them.

While the executive order threatens to defund sanctuary jurisdictions, it does not specifically list what sources of funding are at risk. To better understand what could be at stake, the authors have calculated the amount of funding for five key federal grants that have been targeted in the past by congressional Republicans seeking to defund sanctuary jurisdictions through legislation. The interactive graphic below details, state by state, how much funding could be threatened.

It is important to note that while the Trump administration has threatened to revoke federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, it would have to overcome substantial legal obstacles in order to do so. The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in particular the anti-commandeering doctrine, prohibits the federal government from forcing or coercing states to assist in federal immigration enforcement. Even if the administration gets around the 10th Amendment issues, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government can only impose conditions on federal funds if those conditions are related to the underlying purpose of the program. It would be close to impossible, for example, for the administration to make the case that immigration enforcement is sufficiently related to community or economic development funding. Finally, the Court ruled just five years ago that the threat to withhold funding cannot be so significant that it effectively compels compliance.

Five key funding sources potentially at risk:

  • The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services provides funding to allow law enforcement agencies at the state and local levels to hire additional community policing officers and personnel, as well as technical assistance support.

Click here to view the full-size version of the interactive map.

Methodology

In calculating the funding at risk, this analysis uses the list of sanctuary jurisdictions compiled by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. There is no single definition of a sanctuary jurisdiction. For the purposes of this study, however, the authors consider it to be any place that, at the very least, limits the acceptance of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers, which are requests to hold people beyond the time when they would otherwise be released solely for federal civil immigration purposes. For more information on the sources of this analysis and to download the full data set, click here.

With the exceptions of California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, which have statewide policies, funding totals are tabulated by adding up the amount of funding received by each city or county with a sanctuary policy. For California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, the tabulations include both the funding received by each city or county with a sanctuary policy within the state, as well as any grant funds given to the state government or a state-wide law enforcement entity.

It is worth noting that Justice Assistance Grant funding is given to individual cities, as well as given jointly to counties and cities in some instances, depending on individual circumstances. Since it is not yet clear how the administration will define a sanctuary jurisdiction, for the purposes of this analysis, the authors have included the full amount of funding at risk in any disparate jurisdiction that contains a sanctuary jurisdiction.

Angelo Mathay is a senior research associate at the National Immigration Law Center. Alyson Sincavage is a legislative associate at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Philip E. Wolgin is the Managing Director for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress. Sanam Masroor is an intern with the Immigration Policy team at the Center.

The authors thank Avideh Moussavian of the National Immigration Law Center and Ed Chung and Tom Jawetz of the Center for American Progress for their feedback.