Updated at 3:24 pm
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday afternoon to withhold federal grants from sanctuary cities, as he gave the green light to a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Philly officials had been waiting for such a move against sanctuary cities, as Trump promised a crackdown on sanctuary policies before taking office.
The order itself, which began to circulate later in the afternoon, actually details an exception: Sanctuary cities can’t be stripped of federal funding that they are required by law to receive.
“We cannot faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States if we exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” reads the order.
At a press conference, Trump said the administration would be “empowering” ICE and tripling its current number of officers.
“When it comes to public safety, there’s no room for politics,” Trump said. “We want safe communities, and we demand safe communities for everyone.”
Trump’s executive order is similar to a bill that Northeast Philly State Rep. Martina White proposed last session, one that would’ve stripped state money from sanctuary cities. That bill, excoriated by Mayor Jim Kenney, also would’ve held these municipalities liable for damages assessed for crimes committed by undocumented residents. The bill stalled in the house, but White has expressed her intention to revive it. A newer bill was introduced in the state Senate last week. This proposed legislation, sponsored by Allegheny County Republican Guy Reschenthaler, would also make sanctuary cities liable for damages, render them ineligible for state grants and require that Pennsylvania cities follow requests from federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Earlier, Billy Penn‘s Anna Orso examined what Trump could do with Philly and federal dollars. At the time, it wasn’t clear how far the then President-elect could go with his executive powers in terms of unilaterally stripping away funding from sanctuary cities, like he vowed to do on the campaign trail. As she wrote:
“Block funding for sanctuary cities. We block the funding. No more funding,” Trump said during an August rally in Phoenix. “Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.”
Still, Kenney has remained resolute when it comes to Philadelphia’s status.
“First of all, we’ve changed the name from ‘sanctuary city’ to ‘the Fourth Amendment city,’” Kenney told The Inquirer. “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.”
Taking away all federal taxpayer dollars from Philadelphia and similar cities because they are sanctuary cities probably isn’t possible. Any such move would almost definitely result in a court battle over the viability of sanctuary cities and whether or not the federal government can actually prevent them from receiving federal dollars.
“In terms of him completely defunding sanctuary cities by not giving them any funding whatsoever, it would be virtually impossible to do,” Phil Torrey, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, told the New York Daily News.
What’s up for debate — and what would likely be at the center of a court challenge against the administration if Trump were to follow through — is what funding and grant money can actually be taken away from cities that don’t comply with federal detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Supreme Court has held that if Congress or an administration wants to take away federal funding from a municipality or state based on certain conditions, the funding has to at least be reasonably related to those conditions.
Today, Kenney sent Billy Penn the following statement: “Given that today’s EO was simply a directive and did not even make clear if there were any significant funding streams that the Trump administration could cut off to Philadelphia, we have no plans to change our immigration policy at this time.”
Blanca Pacheco, assistant director of the New Sanctuary Movement, told Billy Penn that NSM members were “sad, scared and enraged.” Pacheco said that they are encouraging their networks to express displeasure with the new state Senate bill and actively brainstorming how to support the city.
“I don’t think everything is set already. There are things that we can do and we’re trying to figure that out,” Pacheco said. “Our community has been attacked for so long. Our community is amazingly resilient. We’ll be sad for a moment, and then get up and fight again.”