Since the beginning of the 115th Congress, lawmakers have introduced five anti-sanctuary city bills. These acts would cut infrastructure funding, Economic Development and Assistance investments, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and other federal aid for jurisdictions labeled as sanctuary cities. While there is no comprehensive legal definition of a “sanctuary jurisdiction,” the uncertainty creates serious legal problems for county governments.
While these bills aim to penalize sanctuary locations through legislation, President Trump has also attempted to advance similar penalties in recent months through administrative action. The efforts by the president began with the Executive order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” This directive instructed the Attorney General to ensure sanctuary jurisdictions were not withholding information regarding the immigration status of an individual from other government organizations. Further, the order indicated these locations would be ineligible for federal grant funding. Shortly after the directive was signed, San Francisco and Santa Clara county filed separate lawsuits against the administration. On April 25, a district court in California issued a preliminary injunction on the order halting its implementation until the litigation is resolved.
Congress has been working independently to impose sanctions against sanctuary cities and the most recent legislation was introduced on February 2 by Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) titled the “No Transportation Funds for Sanctuary Cities Act” (H.R. 824). This bill would halt funding of National Infrastructure Investments, also known as TIGER grants, to sanctuary cities. Further, the legislation seeks to define “sanctuary jurisdictions” as state or political subdivisions that, through policy or practice, prohibit government entities from obtaining internal information about the citizenship status of an individual or fail to comply with a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detainer. This bill was referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, but has yet to receive a vote.
Prior to February, on January 10, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced the “Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act” (S. 87) and Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced its House counterpart (H.R. 400). These bills would establish that state and local agencies which fulfill DHS detainers as agents of the department and are relieved of liability due to compliance. However, agencies are not relieved of liability if they “knowingly violate the civil or Constitutional rights of an individual.” The act defines sanctuary jurisdictions similarly to H.R. 824, but further stipulates these localities would be ineligible to receive Public Works and Economic Development grants and CDBG funding. Furthermore, the bill would require local governments that are deemed sanctuary jurisdictions to return these funds to the federal government or state governor. S.87 has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and H.R. 400 was referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.
On January 12, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) introduced the “No Funding for Sanctuary Campuses Act” (H.R. 483) aimed at restricting title IV funding under the Higher Education Act of 1965 (Pub. L. No. 89-329) to college campuses declared sanctuary locations. The bill defines a “sanctuary campus” similarly to the previous bills, but is aimed at higher educational institutions rather than state and local governments. The last action on this bill was its referral to the House Committee on Education and Workforce.
The first sanctuary city legislation of the 115th Congress was introduced on January 3 by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.). The “Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act” (H.R. 83) would stop state and local governments from receiving federal assistance for one year if they fail to communicate with government agencies about an individual’s citizenship status. This bill was referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, but the subcommittee has yet to hold a vote.
Anti-sanctuary legislation is not new to lawmakers; similar bills were introduced during the 114th Congress but never passed both chambers. In the Senate, the “Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act” was introduced by Senator Pat Toomey (S.3100) and passed a cloture vote on July 6, 2016. In the House, the “Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act” (H.R. 3009) was introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and passed the house on July 23, 2015, but never advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Not all members of Congress have supported sanctions against sanctuary cities. Since the beginning of the 115th Congress, four members have introduced legislation to nullify the effect of Trump’s executive order and protect these localities. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced S.415 on February 16, Rep. Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.) introduced H.R. 1076 on February 15, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced H.R. 921 on February 7 and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) introduced H.R. 748 on January 30.
Federal action withholding funding to sanctuary cities could harm state and local governments committed to ensuring public safety for their residents by cutting federal programs such as infrastructure investments, TIGER and CDBG. NACo supports collaboration between federal lawmakers and local governments to ensure counties do not shoulder the cost of changes to the national immigration policy.