Earlier today we discussed President Trump’s announcement regarding an upcoming executive order that would restrict federal aid to colleges and universities that don’t promote and protect free speech, including for conservatives. At the time, I mentioned that previous plans to apply pressure to institutions by threatening to withhold federal funds haven’t gone very smoothly. The case in point was the White House effort to deny some Justice Department grant money to sanctuary cities and states. Those efforts have been challenged in court, leading to many examples of judges placing a hold on the practice.
As it turns out, the Associated Press is reporting this week that nearly all of the sanctuary areas refusing to cooperate with immigration officials have either received some of those funds or have at least been approved to receive them. In fact, the only large area still being denied is the state of Oregon.
About 18 months after the Trump administration threatened to withhold law enforcement grants from nearly 30 places around the country it felt weren’t doing enough to work with federal immigration agents, all but one have received or been cleared to get the money, the Justice Department said.
In most cases, courts chipped away at the crackdown that escalated in November 2017 with letters from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to 29 cities, metro areas, counties or states it considered as having adopted “sanctuary policies” saying those policies may violate federal law.
Of those 29 jurisdictions — which include cities as large as Los Angeles and as small as Burlington, Vermont — only Oregon has yet to be cleared to receive the grants from 2017, a Justice Department spokesman told The Associated Press this week.
In Oregon, we still have a standoff. Vermont had been held up since Trump’s initial announcement, but they were recently cleared to receive $2.3 million. Reading the way this is being reported, you might suspect that Trump’s efforts to bring the non-complying state and municipal governments in line had failed. But if you read deeper into the report, that’s not actually the case.
Other sanctuary cities and counties that have been “cleared” are still waiting for the money, possibly because of pending legal appeals. But others that have received their money didn’t chalk it up as a “victory” in their battle with the White House. The reason they received their requested grant funds was that they quietly changed some of their policies to bring them into compliance. For example, West Palm Beach, Florida passed a resolution about municipal law enforcement and how they could interact with ICE, leading to their DOJ grant money being put on hold. The city later issued a memo to the police and other city employees saying that they were allowed to share information with federal authorities. West Palm Beach then received the $100K in grant money they requested.
So the bottom line is that many of these court battles have gone against the Trump administration in the early stages. But those battles are still being fought and may eventually wind up in the Supreme Court. There, much like the travel ban, the President may find himself on the right side of history and the sanctuary cities may decide that they’ll either have to help uphold the law or do without the cash.