Sanctuary Cities and Federal Dollars

Sanctuary Cities are in an uproar over President Trump’s executive order promising to withhold federal money from “sanctuary jurisdictions.”  They are seeking court intervention to nullify the order. Sanctuary cities, as a general matter, prohibit local cops from cooperating with Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents, forbid the local cops from notifying the feds regarding illegal aliens in law enforcement custody, etc.

According to Trump’s order, “Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.” The Order calls upon the Attorney General and the Secretary for Homeland Security, “in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law,” to compile a list of sanctuary jurisdictions that will “not [be] eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.”

This could be a huge hit for some cities. For example, it is reported that nearly a quarter of Seattle’s $4 billion budget came from federal government.

No matter how you come down on the Sanctuary City issue, it appears their addiction to federal funds could cut their throats. He who takes the King’s schilling must do the King’s bidding. In the context of school vouchers, this is why I personally oppose Government taking tax revenue and funneling the money to private school via the vouchers. This might be a great mechanism to get students out of underperforming public schools, but it also promises to be an effective mechanism to bring federal control to private schools. Private schools will become addicted to (dependent on) government vouchers and will be forced to kowtow to federal demands on curriculum and other matters.

If Sanctuary Cities want to continue with their efforts to shield individuals from federal immigration law, then they should lay off the federal funds. But for the federal dollars, the cities would have the freedom to oppose national immigration policy. Cities as rich as Seattle should stand on their own two feet anyway. We’ll see if any have the guts to turn down the federal dollars—I’m betting no—but we’ll see.


William J. Watkins, Jr. is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the book Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America’s First Constitution.

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