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How sanctuary cities are fighting back against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies

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Over 300 cities have pledged to protect undocumented Americans

Drop of Light /

President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to take a tough line against immigration, promising to identify and deport two to three million undocumented residents. But he’ll have to get past most major U.S. cities first, the leaders of which have said they won’t enforce any kind of federal anti-immigration laws.

The phrase “sanctuary cities” came up often during the election, as Trump said he would cancel federal funding to U.S. cities which offer sanctuary, or blanket amnesty, to residents who have entered the country illegally. Trump’s leadership team is saying that this remains at the top of his to-do list. On CNN yesterday, the White House’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, threatened cities that dare to defy Trump:

“The idea that a city would decide to ignore federal law and then want the federal government to help them anyway... that’s not the way life works, and I think that the Trump administration is going to explore this issue and I think resolve some of these major problems happening all across the country.”

The “problems” across the country are a growing list of cities which have pledged to protect immigrants, with mayors in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., all coming forward in the past week to reassert their sanctuary status.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been most outspoken about the city’s stance, and apparently told Trump face-to-face in a meeting last week that his position will not change. In a city as diverse as New York, 40 percent of residents were born outside of the U.S., about 500,000 of whom are not documented.

This sentiment was echoed by mayors across the country, who reiterated the public safety risk of such a policy. If people are worried about their neighbors or family members getting deported, they’ll be less likely to report crimes or other emergencies, which could lead to more dangerous streets.

Advocates of deportation policies point to cities with high crime rates, like Chicago, and claim that a crackdown would make cities safer. A 2015 murder of a woman in San Francisco also intensified the debate after it was discovered the gunman had previously been in custody after being deported to Mexico several times.

But this is not only a “big city” issue. About 300 cities, large and small, have sanctuary policies on their books. CityLab made a map that shows how many places already refused to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation efforts at the county level. In fact, many rural residents have voiced concerns that an immigration crackdown would obliterate the local labor force, especially in agriculture-heavy parts of the country.

The question remains: Could Trump simply revoke city-specific funding as punishment? It wouldn’t be that easy. Most funding comes in at the state level, so it could be difficult to filter out money specifically earmarked for cities. Last year, the Senate did not pass a similar bill which would have withheld federal funding for sanctuary cities. But by some estimates, if this happened, larger cities might lose out on up to $1 billion in federal funds.