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Trump issues order against sanctuary cities: What San Francisco could lose

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$1.4 billion annually potentially at stake

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee spoke during 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

As he promised in November, President Donald Trump has issued an executive order today stripping federal funding from cities deemed inadequately cooperative with efforts to detain undocumented immigrants.

The precise standard of what is considered a sanctuary city under Trump rules isn’t clear—by and large, it’s considered any city or municipality that refuses to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement—but San Francisco will definitely make the list no matter what.

What does this mean for the city? Well, it doesn’t mean a change in policy. Mayor Ed Lee previously declared “being a sanctuary city is in our DNA.” He again vowed to stick by immigrants today, telling reporters during a press conference, “Nothing has changed. [...] We are going to remain a sanctuary city because the purpose is to keep everybody safe.”

Wednesday’s presidential action now becomes a question of money. Directly, San Francisco receives over $470 million annually from Washington D.C., but much of an additional $915 million from Sacramento comes from the feds first.

Most federal spending goes toward infrastructure projects, development, and homeless services. Past budgets included:

  • $38.5 million for homeless services.
  • $260 million for foster care payments and child care subsidies.
  • $22 million for street maintenance.
  • $30 million for upkeep on the airport.
  • $68 million for public health, mostly HIV and AIDs-related.

And that’s not including hundreds of millions more that filter through Sacramento first. The City Controller’s office could not immediately assess which specific programs might be endangered by a funding freeze.

San Francisco relies on millions in federal grants too. The Presidio Parkway overhaul used $363 million in federal money. The Central Subway is being built with $1.5 billion in federal grants, only about half of it appropriated. And the city last year secured $11 million in federal grants to relieve traffic.

This morning’s order doesn’t actually directly affect any budget just yet. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the directive simply tells staff to “figure out how we can defund those streams.” It’s an order to come up with a plan, details to be determined later.

The city may have some potential recourse. City Attorney Dennis Herrera is reportedly investigating the possibility of suing the federal government over withheld funds, for example.

San Francisco’s sanctuary policies are not illegal; it’s not clear whether or not the president and Congress can punish local government by withholding unrelated moneys—mainly because it’s never come up before.

Vox points out that, although any definition of “sanctuary city” would include San Francisco, what definition the administration employs could determine if the order is legal, and what kind of court battles would inevitably result.

Any spending that goes through Congress will have to pass the Senate, where Democrats filibustered previous efforts in this same vein and where the party picked up additional seats in the November election.

Photo by Wisanu Boonrawd / Shutterstock

Former San Francisco supervisor David Campos pointed out in November that there are “different ways [Trump] can withhold different types of funding,” predicting that POTUS would “use the power of money to punish us.”

It is important to note that Trump used the 2015 killing of 32-year-old Kathleen Steinle on Pier 14 as an example why his administration wants to do away with sanctuary cities. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the suspect who was deported back to his native Mexico five times prior to the allegedly accidental shooting, remains on trial.

According to SFGate, “Less than three months before the killing, Lopez-Sanchez had been released from San Francisco Jail rather than being turned over to federal immigration authorities.”

Update: Both U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and State Senator Scott Wiener responded, saying that “[e]xecutive orders to break up families in California by this administration will harm public safety and jeopardize our national security” and “[w]e will have our immigrant neighbors' backs,” respectively.