At a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, Donald Trump’s press secretary told reporters that the president has signed an executive order to strip federal grant funding from so-called “sanctuary cities.” Philadelphia is one of them.
“Federal agencies are going to unapologetically enforce the law — no ifs, ands or buts,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said today. “We’re going to strip federal grant money from the sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants. The American people are no longer going to have to subsidize this disregard for our laws.”
Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, said in a statement that the city has no plans to change its policy. “Today’s executive order 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,” she said.
The city received $408 million in federal funding in the 2015 fiscal year, the most recent for which full totals are available. The White House did not explain how Trump would strip funding from cities; some legal scholars say he may not be able to do it.
The text of Trump’s executive order, which was released after Spicer made his statement, said that sanctuary cities “are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.”
“We are not by any means saying that all of that money is at risk,” Hitt told Philadelphia magazine. “Some federal funding is mandated by federal law, and thus would require action by Congress to change.”
The term sanctuary city has no legal meaning. But it’s become a term to refer to cities that have rules, explicit or not, that prohibit local law enforcement from checking into a person’s immigration status and using funds to enforce federal immigration laws.
In January, Mayor Jim Kenney signed an order that restored Philadelphia’s status as such a city, barring almost all cooperation between local cops and federal immigration authorities.
There are multiple reasons why a city like Philadelphia does this. Undocumented immigrants can go to the police to report crimes or other issues without fear of getting deported. This encourages the reporting of crime by people who might otherwise fear the local police, which in theory makes the city safer.
There’s more: Immigrants are residents of the city too, and contribute in various ways to Philadelphia. Cities and states disobey federal laws they find unjust all the time; multiple states that have legalized the commercial sale of recreational or medical marijuana, a substance that remains illegal under federal law. Federal immigration courts are backed up, and cities may want to keep their residents out of them. The deportation of wage-earners in Philadelphia could cause problems for their families, who often receive remittances.
Per a survey by Pew, 58 percent of residents said they supported the status of Philly as a sanctuary city.
Though immigrants by and large are less likely to commit crimes, opponents of sanctuary cities often point to crimes committed by illegal immigrants who they say should have been deported earlier. Trump, as well as U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, oppose sanctuary cities. President Barack Obama did, too, but did not threaten to take away federal funding.
It’s not just Philadelphia that is a sanctuary city in the area. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants fewer numbers of immigrants admitted to the country, Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, and Delaware are all sanctuary counties.