President Trump’s pledge to withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions could cost their states more than $870 million.
At the end of January, the Trump administration signed a pair of executive orders on immigration that, among many other things, cracked down on jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officials. These sanctuary cities, as they’re known, are in danger of losing federal funds if they don’t rescind their policies. While it’s still unclear exactly what money is at risk, a new interactive by the Center for American Progress, in partnership with the National Immigration Law Center and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, gives an idea of which states have the most to lose—and how deep these cuts could go.
Under the executive order, the decision of which funding streams to cut is left entirely up to the attorney general and secretary of Homeland Security. They can decide, “in their discretion and to the extent consistent with the law,” exactly which federal grants to take away and when. This map shows statewide funding losses if the administration were to cut five specific grants that have previously been targeted by Congressional Republicans in attempts to defund sanctuary cities. The grants go toward things like law enforcement (JAG and COPS), reimbursement for incarceration of undocumented immigrants (SCAAP), and economic development and anti-poverty initiatives (the Economic Development and Community Development Block Grants).
Clicking on each state above will show you the exact dollar amount lost if all five grants are cut from every sanctuary jurisdiction in that state. States shaded in darker red stand to lose more money. It’s worth noting, however, that each shade of red represents an incredibly wide range of potential losses; Massachusetts and Arizona are shaded the same color, though the former stands to lose $30 million and the latter only $5 million.
The map also separates funding sources by grant program to highlight the effects of losing each source of money. The biggest loss in most states? The Community Development Block Grant, which by itself accounts for more than $730 million of the total potential $870 million loss. The states facing the largest cuts here are some of the most populous: California, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. States use this block grant to provide services to their poorest and most vulnerable residents in the form of affordable housing and other anti-poverty initiatives.
Overall, the states poised to suffer the greatest losses in this analysis are California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, and Massachusetts. These states are also some of the least dependent on the federal government—they usually contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Still, losing this money could be devastating for city and county budgets.
“Some of these [federal grants] go to our highest-need areas,” Connie Llanos, the press secretary for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, told CityLab in December. “It’s not really about something being about X percentage of the total budget. If you remove one of these pots of funding, there’s nowhere for the city to backfill it from because it’s not something we fund.”
The analysis comes with a few caveats. First, no one actually knows whether the administration will go after these funding streams; it’s simply an educated guess based on the actions of Republican lawmakers in the past. What’s more, some legal experts believe cutting these grants (or most other funding streams for that matter) won’t pass muster in the courts.
“The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from forcing or coercing states to assist in federal immigration enforcement, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the threat to withhold funding cannot be so significant that it effectively compels compliance,” Melissa Keaney, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said in the press release for this analysis.
Those things are true. At the end of last year, CityLab wrote a detailed explanation of the legal problems facing Trump as he tries to defund sanctuary jurisdictions, which include statutory challenges and potential conflicts with Supreme Court precedent. No matter which way you shake it, defunding these localities is going to involve a lengthy legal battle for the administration, one that it might not win.
That's a good thing for proponents of sanctuary policies, who argue that forcing local police to enforce immigration laws degrades trust with the community and prevents undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes. (There is also grave concern about the constitutionality of policies that require local police to detain immigrants without a charge.)
But other groups, like the Center for Immigration Studies, have argued that these concerns are largely unfounded, and sanctuary city policies have led to the release of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who would otherwise be deported. They believe sanctuary jurisdictions are in violation of federal law, and should be punished as such.
The courts will likely decide these questions eventually. For now, a majority of states, and more than 600 localities around the country, have to wait and see exactly what they stand to lose.