The country’s largest police union, which endorsed Donald Trump for president, is wary of his stance on a key campaign issue: his promise to withhold funds from “sanctuary cities.”
As part of his first 100-days action plan, Mr. Trump has pledged to block all federal funding to jurisdictions that shield illegal immigrants.
But in recent days, mayors and police chiefs in major cities across the country have pledged to stand behind their sanctuary city policies in defiance of Mr. Trump’s plans.
The stance creates a conundrum for the National Fraternal Order of Police, which doesn’t support the sanctuary city concept but worries that public safety could be harmed if funds for law enforcement initiatives are withheld from cities.
“We do not support the withholding of public safety funds as a hammer,” said FOP Executive Director James Pasco.
The FOP, which has more than 330,000 members, has been supportive of the Republican president-elect and hopes that Mr. Trump will usher in a new era of respect and support for law enforcement. But Mr. Pasco said that withholding federal funds to local governments and their law enforcement agencies ultimately would endanger residents.
“You can’t hold people’s safety over their heads to get them to come to your point of view,” Mr. Pasco said.
To compel cities to re-evaluate their sanctuary status, “some other levers are going to have to be pulled,” the police union leader said.
It’s not entirely clear which jurisdictions could be at risk for losing federal funds under Mr. Trump’s plan, as there is no legal definition for “sanctuary city.” The term generally refers to jurisdictions that do not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for example, by not notifying immigration officials when an undocumented immigrant is going to be released from custody. But it also can encompass cities that ban police from inquiring about a person’s immigration status during interactions.
The Center for Immigration Studies estimates there are more than 300 cities that refuse to comply with ICE agents.
How much money or which federal grants city governments could risk losing by continuing to uphold policies that shield illegal immigrants is also unclear.
State and local governments received about $667 billion in federal funds in fiscal 2016, with about half that amount going toward Medicaid. Funding for discretionary grant programs — including those that expand the capacity of drug addiction treatment centers or help pay for police departments to obtain body cameras — totals about $200 billion.
New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to protect immigrant families and resist Mr. Trump’s plan, is slated to receive $7.7 billion in federal grants during fiscal 2017, according to Bloomberg News. Meanwhile, Santa Fe, New Mexico, could lose about $6 million in federal funds, or about 2 percent of its annual budget.
“The loss of federal funds would be certainly devastating, but we’re not going to compromise our values. We’ll have to find our way through it, and we will,” Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales told CNN.
A new attorney general will play a role in deciding how to deal with sanctuary cities. Mr. Trump announced last week the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who is on the record calling for the prosecution of sanctuary cities that protect illegal immigrants.
As attorney general, Mr. Sessions will have the power to strip some federal funding from sanctuary cities thanks to rulings this year by the Justice Department’s inspector general, who said federal law requires localities to cooperate with immigration agents, who provided an initial list of a handful of the worst offenders.
The IG report examined 10 jurisdictions that have policies barring jails and police from cooperating with ICE and found they received more than $362 million in federal grants through the Office of Justice Programs and Office on Violence Against Women.
While some big-city police chiefs have criticized Mr. Trump’s proposed crackdown, some law enforcement organizations say it ultimately will benefit the safety of civilians and officers.
Bill Johnson, president of the National Association of Police Organizations, said he thinks the plan to withhold federal funding from cities that oppose federal laws “makes sense.”
He said local police agencies are more likely to use federal grants for training or policy initiatives rather than to pay for staff, and therefore he doesn’t think patrols or investigations would be affected. Sending the message that the Trump administration will not tolerate illegal immigration is more likely to benefit public safety, Mr. Johnson said.
“Sanctuary cities tend to be more dangerous for police work, because at some level the local government is saying it is OK to break the law,” Mr. Johnson said.
Shawn Moran, spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, echoed that sentiment earlier this month in an interview on “Fox & Friends,” saying that sanctuary cities “create an incentive for people to continue to break our laws.”
“The president-elect and the Congress [have] a lot of power that they can use. That seems to be the easiest way that most people are talking about … to hold back funding to cities in case they are not complying with laws, like the sanctuary cities,” said Mr. Moran, whose union endorsed Mr. Trump.
For sheriffs, who often oversee local jails and are more apt to oppose sanctuary city laws, questions over funding are not as big a concern as is the confusion over what deputies are legally allowed to do or ask when interacting with illegal immigrants, said Greg Champagne, president of the National Sheriffs’ Association.
“We just want clear guidelines. Tell us the rules; we’ll play,” Mr. Champagne said.