D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser vowed Tuesday to work with other mayors in pushing progressive policies, including shielding illegal immigrants, under a Donald Trump presidency and Republican-led Congress.
The District will continue to be a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants and will tend to its most vulnerable residents if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act, Miss Bowser said during a panel discussion on big-city progressive priorities.
“We didn’t change,” Miss Bowser said at the Center for American Progress event. “There’s going to be a new occupant at the White House, but D.C. residents didn’t change.”
The progressive think tank sponsored Tuesday’s panel discussion, featuring Democratic mayors from the District, Philadelphia, Seattle and Dayton, Ohio.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley echoed Miss Bowser, saying that cities don’t need to lose their identities because of the incoming president’s politics.
“We are a welcoming and inclusive city, no matter what. It’s key to who we are and how we define ourselves,” Ms. Whaley said.
Progressive cities need not yield to pressure from the White House and Congress just because the federal leadership has changed, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said.
“Cities can be very, very effective and change the conversation in America. Cities can be a major force,” Mr. Kenney said. “We just have to take it as it comes. I think it’s almost a necessity to band together.”
So-called sanctuary cities direct their local police not to inquire about the immigration status of residents and not to cooperate with federal immigration agents. About 300 communities across the country identify themselves as sanctuaries for immigrants — and could face repercussions under the incoming Trump administration.
In his campaign, Mr. Trump pledged to crack down on and deport illegal immigrants, who are believed to number about 11 million in the U.S. As president, he could withhold billions of dollars in federal grants from cities that shield illegal immigrants.
“Block funding for sanctuary cities. We block the funding. No more funding,” Mr. Trump told a rally in Phoenix in August. “Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.”
What’s more, if confirmed as attorney general, Jeff Sessions has said he would sue cities that break federal laws. The Alabama Republican senator is an outspoken critic of illegal immigration.
Those potential threats have yet to deter some big-city mayors: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently called for a task force to help illegal immigrants and said he would use $1 million for an immigrant legal defense fund.
Miss Bowser announced a similar initiative last week. She plans to award grants to lawyers and nonprofit groups that represent the estimated 25,000 illegal immigrants in the District. The plan initially will be funded by moving money from the Office on Latino Affairs to the new Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant Program.
“If immigration enforcement changes and problems arise, D.C.’s immigrant population will have our support and the support of DC’s legal community,” the mayor said last week.
The grants, which will total about $500,000, will fund legal aid for those seeking asylum or permanent U.S. citizenship.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said during Tuesday’s panel discussion that understanding the function of a sanctuary city could make people more amenable to accepting illegal immigrants.
“It’s Important to remember what a sanctuary city is,” Mr. Murray said. “It means if you are a victim of domestic violence and you aren’t documented, you can call the police. If you need city services you’re going to get those city services.”