Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: A Done Deal?

Pro-immigration rally in front of Trump Towers
Hello Everyone:

After spending a lovely at The Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles (pictures to follow, Blogger is ready to write this week's edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  The mood of the nation is anxious.  The Inauguration is on Friday and no one knows what happens next.  What will President-elect Donald J. Trump say and do over the next four years.  The future of healthcare is in a state of flux-repeal and replace with...  Another campaign issue that is in a nebulous state is immigration.

Somewhere between boarder walls and immigration bans, one issue that is not quite a vitriolic is sanctuary cities.  There is no official definition for sanctuary city, however it basically refers to "...rules restricting state and local governments from alerting federal authorities about people who may be in the country illegally."  (; date accessed Jan. 18, 2017)  Examples of sanctuary cities are: Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Boston.  One of PEOTUS's campaign promises is an end to federal funding for cities that provide safe haven for undocumented immigrants.  The matter came under scrutiny in 2015, following the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco by an undocumented immigrant.  The question we are going to address, with the help of Natalie Delgadillo's CityLab article, "How Badly Could Trump Hurt Sanctuary Cities?"

Governor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. D-Ca
In early December 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown became a hero to many anti-Trumpeters during a speech on climate at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco.  He told the cheering assembly:

If Trump turns off the satellites [collecting climate data], California will launch its own damn satellites!"

Blogger's home state governor, a symbol of resistance-Fight On.

In the waning hours of President Barack Obama's administration, local and state governments around the United States, are preparing for battle against the incoming administration on a number of policy issues including climate change and immigration enforcement-an especially pressing issue for cities.  In essence, PEOTUS has promised to "revoke federal funding for sanctuary cities within his first 100 days."  A host of cities have stated for the record they will not change their policies in the face of this threat.  However, if PEOTUS does succeed in keeping every federal grant from reaching city treasuries, it could result in a devastating financial hit to metropolitans that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

The operative word here is if, as in if all the legal obstacles that block the Trump administration from implementing this policy could be overcome.  Ms. Delgadillo speculates that the legal obstacles "could prove onerous enough to new his attempts altogether, or water them down so much they become nothing more than wrist-slaps for the cities in question."  CityLab spoke to constitutional law and for the purposes of this article, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability experts, to explain what road blocks the administration might encounter to get cities to comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts and how much money is at state.

San Francisco skyline
A statutory challenge

CityLab spoke with Ilya Somin, a professor at George Mason University of Law, the first obstacle PEOTUS faces has nothing to do with constitutional law; the issue is statues.  Ms. Delgadillo writes, "For decades, Supreme Court precedent has maintained than any condition on a federal grant must be expressly written into the law in 'clear and unambiguous' fashion."  Prof. Somin said, "there are likely very federal grants expressly condition on compliance with deportation efforts-in fat, he can't think of any at all."  Thus, President elect Trump would simply be able to tell a sanctuary city, "comply or no federal grant"  on his first actual day of work.  Rather, he would need the help of Congress in the way of new grants, all written with a stipulation that cities must comply with deportation actions in order to receive any funds.  This could take longer than PEOTUS envisioned, however with a Republican majority in Congress, it is certainly a major challenge.

Los Angeles skyline
Is the funding 'germane'?

Is the funding relevant?  This is another question that could stymie The Trump administration's efforts to withhold funding for sanctuary cities.  Hypothetically, let us pretend that the administration got Congress to enact a law that binds federal grants to local compliance with deportation efforts.  The next question is Are al of those grants germane?  Meaning, "...are the conditions for withholding relevant to what the funds are actually used for?"

Natalie Delgadillo writes, "States and localities across the country receive federal grants for everything from education to housing to infrastructure to law enforcement."  A narrow interpretation of germane qualification means "...only grants related to law enforcement or immigration would be at risk, since those are ones directly relevant to immigration enforcement."  This would, more likely, be a manageable loss for the majority of large cities-they represent a small portion of their overall budgets.  However, University of Chicago law professor William Baude who spoke with Daniel Hertz at the CBTA told CityLab, "...courts could also conceivably take a much wider view, and decide that all grants that benefit undocumented immigrants are fair game."  This could mean all grants, "...because city services and programs-from infrastructure to education to parks-all benefit undocumented people in one way or another."  This would result in a bigger loss for large cities.

Chicago skyline
Are the conditions coercive?

Do the conditions of grant add up to the proverbial "gun to the head?"  This was the question the Supreme Court considered-the federal government cannot place onerous conditions- in last year's Affordable Care Act ruling.  In this case, they determined that the Obama administration's attempt to hold back Medicaid funding from states that refused to expand the program was deem "unconstitutionally coercive."

Applied to the Trump administration, if the incoming administration somehow found a way to withhold federal grants from sanctuary cities, this could also be considered "unconstitutionally coercive."  Prof. Somin, added what exactly qualifies as gun to the head remains unclear.  In context to big cities, federal funding is about five percent of the total budget, theoretically less financial pressure than ACA exerted on states-however it does not necessarily mean that the loss would be manageable.

Boston, Massachusetts

How much could this hurt a city?

How much would withholding federal grants from sanctuary cities hurt?  Hard to say whether or not how much PEOTUS's policies could hurt cities enough to make sanctuary policies untenable.  Just how much depends on whether or not the city could fill in some of the gaps opened by the loss of funding with its own revenues, and the level of political will it has to continue its sanctuary policies.  It is also contingent on exactly how much money the Trump administration takes away.

Baltimore harbor at night
Baltimore, Maryland
If you follow the link: to the article, you will find a chart  that lays out what would happened to five different sanctuary cities if they lost all of their federal grants and the percentage of their total operating budget.

Overall, with the exception of Washington D.C, the federal grants represent less than 20 percent of the total operating budgets.  Federal grants to Washington D.C. represent 29.40 percent (the numbers are approximates for Fiscal Year 2016 obtained from civic officials except for Chicago, where CityLab used CBTA numbers).  Given that withholding federal grants to the Capitol City would meet the "gun to the head" test, it would be rendered unconstitutional.  However, in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the effect is smaller, losing federal funding could still do damage.

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, California
Press secretary to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Connie Llanos, told Ms. Delgadillo,

L.A. has an $8 billion budget, but some of these [federal grants] go to our highest-need areas...It's not really about something being about X percentage of the total budget.  If you remove one of these pots of funding, there's nowhere for the city to backfill it from because it's not something we fund.

Thus, given these enormous sums and logistical tangles, it appears unlikely (but not impossible) for the Trump administration to halt the flow of federal funds.  To understand this further, CityLab turned to Philip Wolgin at the Center for American Progress for clarification.  CityLab outlined another approach the Trump administration could take: Again, follow the link, you will find a chart of five specific grants going to the same cities.  Ms. Delgadillo writes, "These grants were chose, Wolgin explains, because congressional Republicans have already targeted them in legislative attempts to defund sanctuary cities in 2015 and 2016."  A reasonable place for the incoming administration to start.

Aerial view of  downtown Washington D.C.
The grants chosen by Mr. Wolgin are earmarked for law enforcement (JAG and COPS), reimbursement for incarcerating undocumented immigrants (SCAAP). and economic development and anti-poverty programs (The Economic and Community Development Block Grants).

These grants compose less than one percent of each of the cities's total budget.  Mr. Wolgin told CityLab via email, "these funding streams shouldn't be taken as as a complete list of those that could be at risk-just a starting place..."  Specifically,

I also do not mean to concede in any way that the administration of Congress legally could cut any of these fundings streams-there are may be constraints on what conditions can be placed on various funding streams (which is a big open question)

Most of the cities contacted by CityLab told the publication that they could not speculate about what cutting off these funding streams could do their budgets.  Ms. Llanos mentioned that if Los Angeles lost several grants-particularly the CDBGs which facilitate job creation in high-need areas-it would possibly affect low-income residents.

The city officials that spoke with Natalie Delgadillo reaffirmed their commitment to keeping their policies in the face of funding cuts.  Deputy press secretary to Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bower, Susana Castillo, said in an email,  [The Mayor] will standing opposition that threaten our values.

One of the uncertainties of the new administration is just how resolute Mayors Bowser and Garcetti (or any other mayor) remain in the face of threats to cut off federal grants.  On a somewhat optimistic note, the myriad of legal roadblocks in President elect Donald Trump's way make that threat not quite as resolute as it seems.

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