GOP states move to block sanctuary cities after Trump order

By Reid Wilson - 02/09/17 01:51 PM EST

Amid protests over President Trump’s executive order aiming to block federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities, Republican legislators across the country are moving to deny their own funding to cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities.

The Texas state Senate on Wednesday passed a measure to block state funding to cities in which law enforcement officials disregard federal immigration laws. The measure would require police agencies to hold anyone in custody until U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement is able to verify their immigration status, or risk losing state funding.

Similar legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Idaho and Pennsylvania. Other laws are likely to be introduced in the coming weeks. Many are inspired by Trump’s executive orders barring refugees and blocking all immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“What he’s doing is a great idea. We need to protect Americans, we need to protect Tennesseans,” state Sen. Mark Green (R), author of his state’s version of the sanctuary city ban, said in an interview. “We’re going to take it a step further and enhance what the president is doing and take state dollars from cities that decide, because they want to, to ignore ICE detainers.”Civil rights groups that oppose bans on sanctuary cities say the measures are questionable, and many promised to challenge the bills in court if they become law.

Local law enforcement agencies that decline to participate with federal immigration authorities say their approach helps them build trust with immigrant communities. If undocumented immigrants are afraid for their own safety, they are less likely to report crimes or cooperate with local police.

“Many cities and some states and other municipalities have made the decision that they’re not going to use their jails, their police officers, their city resources to do immigration enforcement,” Omar Jadwat, a senior attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants Rights Project, told The Hill last year. “And that is completely within their rights.”

Local law enforcement agencies are not required to enforce immigration statutes or to comply with detention requests from ICE. But the new round of state proposals would use state grant money as leverage to require local compliance.

Some of the new proposals go farther by holding local officials accountable for their city’s actions. In Ohio, a proposal backed by state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) — who is challenging Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in 2018 — would charge officials with a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, if an undocumented immigrant is charged with a crime.

A Florida proposal would require government officials to report possible violations to the state attorney general or risk expulsion from office. The Florida bill would fine local governments up to $5,000 a day for maintaining sanctuary policies.

North Carolina’s version would withhold tax revenues from natural gas, telecommunications and beer and wine sales from any locality that maintains a sanctuary policy. State lawmakers banned sanctuary cities in 2015, though that measure has no enforcement mechanism.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has already moved to block about $1.8 million in state grants to Travis County, where the local sheriff has implemented a sanctuary policy.

“I will not tolerate sanctuary city policies that put the citizens of Texas at risk,” Abbott said in a statement Thursday. “Elected officials do not get to pick and choose which laws they will obey.”

Trump’s order has already forced one local government, Miami-Dade County, to drop its sanctuary policy.

Since the day after Trump won election, Democrat-led states have pursued an opposite path in hopes of protecting undocumented residents, setting up likely legal clashes.

California legislators are working on a package of laws that would create legal defense funds for those swept up in immigration raids, while Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) ordered state agencies to avoid asking about immigration statuses of those with whom they come into contact.

“In California, immigrants are an integral part of who we are and what we’ve become,” Gov. Jerry Brown (D) told legislators in his state of the state address last month. “We will defend everybody, every man, woman and child, who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state.”

There is no legal definition of a sanctuary city, county or state. But hundreds of jurisdictions across the country — including the entire states of California, Connecticut, New Mexico and Colorado — label themselves as such.

Washington, D.C.; Arlington, Va.; Philadelphia; New York City; Boston; Baltimore; New Orleans and other major cities have all adopted sanctuary policies.