SAN FRANCISCO >> President Donald Trump’s executive order withholding funding from communities that limit cooperation with immigration authorities applies to a small pot of grant money, not the hundreds of millions of dollars that cities and counties around the country say is at stake, a lawyer with the Department of Justice said today.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler made the comments during a court hearing on lawsuits filed by the city of San Francisco and Santa Clara County against Trump’s order targeting so-called sanctuary cities.
Readler said the order would affect less than a million dollars in funding for Santa Clara County and possibly no money for San Francisco.
The plaintiffs had argued that more than a billion dollars was at stake for each of them because the president’s order referred broadly to federal funding.
Readler’s statement appeared to catch U.S. District Judge William Orrick by surprise. Orrick then questioned the point of the president’s executive order.
Readler said the administration was using a “bully pulpit” to highlight an issue it cares deeply about.
The Department of Justice also says in court documents that San Francisco’s lawsuit was premature because decisions about withholding funds have yet to be made.
San Francisco and Santa Clara County have asked for a court order blocking the Trump administration from cutting off funds to any sanctuary cities. Orrick did not immediately issue a ruling after Friday’s hearing.
The sanctuary city order was among a flurry of immigration measures the president signed in January, including a ban on travelers from seven majority Muslim countries and a border security directive calling for a wall along the Mexico border.
A federal appeals court blocked the travel ban. The administration then revised it, and the new version is also stalled in court.
The sanctuary city order directs the attorney general and secretary of homeland security to ensure that local governments that refuse to provide people’s immigration status to federal authorities are not eligible for federal grants except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes.
The Trump administration says the stance by sanctuary cities allows dangerous criminals back on the street, and the president’s order is needed to keep the country safe. San Francisco and other sanctuary cities say turning local police into immigration officers erodes trust that’s needed to get people to report crimes.
The order has also prompted lawsuits by Seattle, two Massachusetts cities, Lawrence and Chelsea, and the city of Richmond in California. None of those cases has received a court hearing yet.
San Francisco, the first city to challenge the order in court, said the president does not have authority over federal funds and cannot force local officials to enforce federal immigration law.
The city argues that the order also appears to apply to local governments that don’t detain immigrants for possible deportation when they are due for release from jail.