The Rev. Annie Steinberg-Behrman, right, provisional pastor with Metropolitan Community Church, holds a sign while listening to speakers at a meeting at City Hall in San Francisco by city leaders and community activists to reaffirm the city's commitment to being a sanctuary city in response to Donald Trump's support of deportations and other measures against immigrants Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

On the campaign trail, Trump threatened to cut federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities. Authorities in many of those municipalities are now speaking out.  

We are still in the early days of a post-Trump world, and it remains difficult to tell how the President-elect will govern once he takes office in January. In the short time since he was elected, Donald Trump has already appeared to begin walking back some of his most extreme positions on the Affordable Care Act and the famous wall at the Mexico border. But he has also hired a white nationalist as his chief strategist in the White House, and appears intent on deporting some 3 million undocumented immigrants (still the most in history, but far less than his original vow to deport 11 million).

As we all prepare to find out just how many campaign promises Trump intends to keep, some state and local governments are steeling themselves for what could turn into an ugly fight over local immigration enforcement policies. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to cut off federal funding to localities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in enforcing immigration law. These so-called sanctuary cities stand to lose a lot: In San Francisco alone, city leaders estimate they receive about one billion dollars a year in federal funding for everything from infrastructure to education.

Even so, in the last few days, the mayors of several prominent sanctuary cities nationwide have made public statements reaffirming their commitment to the policies and their opposition to the President-elect’s threats. It remains to be seen how much pressure Trump can exert on them, but for now many have pledged to hold firm. Here’s a round-up of what they’re saying.

New York City

Trump’s hometown of New York City has had explicit policies limiting cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement since 2011, and has added more protections in the years since. Two days after the election, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the policies in a meeting at City Hall and pledged that the city is “not going to take anything lying down,” including attempts by the Trump administration to deport undocumented New Yorkers.

Activists have expressed concern regarding the city’s database of information on the 850,000 New Yorkers with a municipal ID card. More than 500,000 of those people are undocumented. At the meeting, de Blasio pledged to protect that information from a Trump administration, saying it would all be deleted if necessary. “We’re not going to sacrifice a half million people who live among us. We’re not going to tear families apart. We will do everything we know how to do to resist that,” he said.


Seattle has had sanctuary status since 2003, when it passed an ordinance preventing local police from inquiring about any person’s immigration status. The day after the election, Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle made a strong statement in support of the city’s general pro-immigrant environment and pledged to maintain current policies, even though he is “very concerned” it could result in a loss of federal funding: “These are our neighbors, and we will continue to support our neighbors. We can’t allow ourselves to be divided and sorted out. That’s not America.”

Los Angeles

A spokeswoman for Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti told Fortune in an email that their city, too, intends to hold steady on its policies. “We comply with federal immigration agencies, but insist that detainer requests be handled constitutionally. It is Mayor Garcetti’s sincere hope that no president would violate those principles, the very foundation of our nation, by taking punitive action on cities that are simply protecting the well-being of residents,” spokeswoman Connie Llanos said.

L.A. police chief Charlie Beck, too, has signaled that his department will not change the way they work with immigrants in the community. “We are not going to engage in law enforcement activities solely based on somebody’s immigration status. We are not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts. That is not our job, nor will I make it our job,” he said Monday.

San Francisco

San Francisco became the most well-known sanctuary city in the nation after the death of Kathryn Steinle in 2015, allegedly at the hands of an undocumented immigrant that had been released without notification to ICE. But Mayor Ed Lee reassured undocumented residents on Thursday, via a series of tweets and a press conference, that the city’s status would not be changing.

Lee did signal his concern at the prospect of losing federal dollars, however. "I think we have about a half-billion dollars in direct funding—probably more when we look at how we disperse state funding," Lee said. "I hope politics does not get in the way of public service."


Mayor Jim Kenney said last week that his city will not change its policies around immigration detainers, calling laws that target sanctuary policies “incredibly dangerous,” according to He also clarified what he believes these policies mean.

“First of all, we've changed the name from 'sanctuary city' to 'the Fourth Amendment city,' " Kenney said. "We respect and live up to the Fourth Amendment, which means you can't be held against your will without a warrant from the court signed by a judge. So, yeah, we will continue to be a Fourth Amendment city abiding by the Constitution."

However, Kenney declined to speculate about what would happen if federal funding was cut. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.


In Rhode Island’s capital, police will continue to hold anyone with an immigration detainer that has also been charged with a crime. But the city refuses to hold people that have been charged with minor civil infractions, even if ICE puts a detainer on them. On Sunday, Mayor Jorge Elorza promised the policy wouldn’t change, saying the city is “not going to sacrifice any of our people.”

“I’ve been in touch with mayors [from New York and L.A.] and I’ve told them we’re going to stand together on this,” Elorza told the Providence Journal Sunday. “We’re not going to sacrifice any of our people and we’re going to continue with the policy we always had.”

Washington D.C.

Mayor Muriel Bowser released a statement on Monday night that echoed many others: "We are a sanctuary city because we know that our neighborhoods are safer and stronger when no one is afraid to call on our government for help, and when our police can focus on protecting and serving," she said. "The values, laws, and policies of Washington, D.C. did not change on Election Day. We celebrate our diversity and respect all D.C. residents no matter their immigration status."


Chicago has had sanctuary policies on the books for more than thirty years, prohibiting police officers from inquiring into a person’s immigration status. At a press conference Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel—who has long had a somewhat thorny relationship with immigration-reform supporters—reassured citizens that he has no intention of changing that. "To all those who are, after Tuesday's election, very nervous and filled with anxiety as we've spoken to, you are safe in Chicago, you are secure in Chicago and you are supported in Chicago," Emanuel said. "Chicago will always be a sanctuary city."

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    We'll Need To Reopen Our Cities. But Not Without Making Changes First.

    We must prepare for a protracted battle with coronavirus. But there are changes we can make now to prepare locked-down cities for what’s next.

  2. photo: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.  

  3. photo: a For Rent sign in a window in San Francisco.

    Do Landlords Deserve a Coronavirus Bailout, Too?

    Some renters and homeowners are getting financial assistance during the economic disruption from the coronavirus pandemic. What about landlords?

  4. photo: a bicycle rider wearing a mask in London

    In a Global Health Emergency, the Bicycle Shines

    As the coronavirus crisis forces changes in transportation, some cities are building bike lanes and protecting cycling shops. Here’s why that makes sense.

  5. An African healthcare worker takes her time washing her hands due to a virus outbreak/.

    Why You Should Stop Joking That Black People Are Immune to Coronavirus

    There’s a fatal history behind the claim that African Americans are more resistant to diseases like Covid-19 or yellow fever.