San Francisco Seeks To Block Trump's Order On Sanctuary Cities

Apr 14, 2017
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

To San Francisco now where a federal judge heard arguments today over whether to block President Trump's executive order on what are known as sanctuary cities. Those are cities where, broadly speaking, local police do not enforce federal immigration laws. Trump's executive order threatens to cut off federal funds to those places. San Francisco and other cities have sued the administration to preserve their federal funding.

NPR's Richard Gonzales was in the courtroom for these arguments and joins us now. And Richard, to start, what's fundamentally at issue here?

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Well, there's a basic disagreement about the 11 million people in this country illegally. Trump has said sanctuary cities become hotbeds of criminal activity. The mayors of sanctuary cities like here in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles say just the opposite. Those leaders say their cities become less safe if unauthorized immigrants are afraid to cooperate with the police for fear that they could be deported.

CORNISH: So what happened in court today?

GONZALES: Well, the city is seeking an injunction arguing that the executive order is unconstitutional and that it seeks to turn local officials into federal immigration enforcers. Now, one of the many issues that comes up here is that there is no universal definition of sanctuary city. It's generally understood to mean that no city resources will be used to enforce federal immigration law. So the city won't cooperate with a voluntary request to hold people until the federal authorities can pick them up. Deputy City Attorney Mollie Lee says the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have clearly targeted San Francisco, and here's what she said outside the courthouse today.

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MOLLIE LEE: We felt, as a result of that, that we needed to take immediate action. We were in the crosshairs. And so we needed to stand up for the rights of San Francisco and San Francisco residents.

CORNISH: So what did lawyers for the Trump administration say in court?

GONZALES: Well, lawyers for the Justice Department say that the administration hasn't yet decided how it will implement the executive order and that San Francisco and other jurisdictions, such as Santa Clara County, have not been harmed because no funds have been denied to them.

CORNISH: Give us a sense of how much money is at stake here for San Francisco.

GONZALES: Well, San Francisco receives about $1.2 billion in federal funding, most of that for health care, nutrition and transportation. And the city's suit says that even a 10 percent loss would be a calamity, and that would lead to a potential reduction in public safety programs, even the police.

Lawyers for Santa Clara County say $1.7 billion in federal funds are threatened. And local leaders really underscore the fact that this money is not a handout from the federal government. It's money that taxpayers and businesses here in San Francisco and Santa Clara County have sent to Washington.

CORNISH: So what happens next?

GONZALES: Well, the judge, William Orrick, gave no indication about when he might issue a ruling. Still, this fight between San Francisco and Trump is happening as another very concrete case moves forward. You might recall the death of Kate Steinle two years ago. She was a 32-year-old woman who was allegedly slain by a man who was in this country illegally and who had an extensive criminal record. His name was Francisco Lopez-Sanchez. As a candidate, Donald Trump mentioned Kate Steinle's murder very frequently as an example of what's wrong with sanctuary cities. And that murder trial is set for the summer.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Richard Gonzales in San Francisco. Thanks so much.

GONZALES: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.