US president Donald Trump’s goal of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants is going to be tricky to carry out if he doesn’t have the help of the cities where they live.
So far, he’s met staunch resistance from dozens of mayors, who are insisting they will keep protecting their undocumented residents, earning the informal designation of “sanctuary cities.” In response, Trump released an executive action today to defund those cities which do not arrest immigrants in the US without formal documents.
“Federal agencies are going to unapologetically enforce the law, no ifs or buts,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a press conference announcing the action today. “We’re gonna strip federal grant money from the sanctuaries states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants. The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize this disregard for our laws.”
The leader of a city which offers some of these protections, Boston’s Democratic mayor Marty Walsh, says Trump’s approach makes little sense. “I don’t even know what he means by cutting federal funding,” Walsh tells Quartz. “Congress directs the president to spend money—I don’t think he has the ability to cut money there, so I’m not sure exactly what that means. It sounds to me like it’s a buzzword or a tweet.”
There are an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US, a number which has stabilized in recent years. A majority live in states with dense population centers: New York, New Jersey, California, Texas, Florida, and Illinois.
Spicer gave little insight today into what specific cuts would be made. When pressed by reporters, he said secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly would “look at funding streams that are going to these cities and look at how we can defund those streams.” Under the executive order, Trump’s administration also plans to release a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
Whatever the response, Walsh says he still has no intention of helping Trump’s mass deportations and that making cities poorer will hurt the whole country. “I’m keeping my policy as it is,” he says. “If the president cuts funding back, it’ll be in Boston, New York, Chicago, LA, Minneapolis and Miami, and every city in the country just about. I don’t know how they do that—cities are economic engines for the country. A lot of tax revenue is earned here in the city of Boston for the federal government, so I don’t see how you penalize somebody who’s gonna help the federal government.”
Walsh argues the executive order goes against an argument that Trump and the Republican party have long made: that state rights should be protected wherever possible. “They’re contradicting their own policy by saying they’re gonna cut back if we don’t do what the national government says,” he says. “What is it? Are they gonna allow states and cities to have more independence, or are they gonna be the ‘Big Brother,’ telling us what to do?”
Trump’s immigration actions today also included an executive order to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Opponents have harshly criticized the moves, with one New York activist describing it as a “declaration of war” on immigrants.