President Donald Trump has said he’ll withhold billions of dollars in federal funding from cities that won’t get in line with his immigration policy. The big questions now: Can he really defund sanctuary cities? And which cities stand to lose the most if he makes good on his threat?
As much as $27 billion in federal funding is at stake, according to research by American Transparency. Chicago alone could lose out on more than $5 billion in federal grants and other direct payments. But turning off the tap might not be so easy.
For one, there’s the pesky 1oth amendment to the Constitution, which says Washington can’t force states to uphold federal laws. Sanctuary city proponents say it protects cities offering safe harbor to the undocumented. And in the past, the Supreme Court has agreed the federal government can’t coerce state and local governments to act in a certain way by withholding funds, unless the money being held back is germane to a specific issue, Politifact reported. So, the government might be able to withhold law enforcement funds for cities that don’t cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but it might not be able to hold back money for public transit.
More recently, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked a Trump administration order to withhold funding from cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued a temporary ruling that will stay in place while the lawsuit moves forward.
Plus, the billions of dollars cities get from the federal government don’t come from a single source. Money flows into cities for housing, education, transit, cultural programs, and more from different branches of the federal government. Some of it goes directly to city government, but separate agencies and nonprofit organizations also receive funds. Terminating all of those payments would likely be difficult. Complicating matters is there’s no single, clear definition of a sanctuary city.
Let’s take a closer look at which 15 cities Trump could punish the most.
15. Newark, New Jersey
- Federal funding per resident: $733.27
- Total federal funding: $206,741,575
Newark received more than $200 million in 2016 from the federal government, including $70 million for the Newark Public Housing Authority and $59 million for the city’s public schools. But those numbers haven’t stopped city leaders from speaking out against Trump’s threat to cut off sanctuary cities.
Mayor Ras Baraka criticized the president’s executive order and said it was “criminal” to cut funding and “to punish other Americans, to punish the residents of this community, to punish them in terms of housing, in terms of police, in terms of roads, in terms of infrastructure, to punish them because they refuse to cooperate in sending their neighbors away unlawfully.”
In addition to funds for schools, housing, and other programs, the Newark police receive about $921,000 every year, according to American Transparency. (When possible, we’ve noted how much money the local police receive from the federal government, but that might not reflect other federal funds the city receives that go to law enforcement and immigration.) Nineteen percent of the city’s residents are undocumented.
Next we head west …
14. Coachella, California
- Federal funding per resident: $881.42
- Total federal funding: $39,342,326
Ninety percent of the money Coachella, California, receives from the federal government goes to the city’s school district. The city near Palm Springs says it’s not technically a sanctuary city, though it doesn’t work with federal immigration authorities and refrains from asking residents about their immigration status, KESQ reported.
Next up on the list? Trump’s hometown.
13. New York City
- Federal funding per resident: $894.07
- Total federal funding: $7,644,696,648
New York gets more money from the federal government than any other city in the U.S. But because it’s population is so large, it’s not at the very top of the list for per capita spending.
Many of the dollars the city receives goes to education, with $1.7 billion flowing directly to the NYC Board of Education and another $2.6 billion coming from the state’s education department via the federal government. Smaller amounts go to everything else, including the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Public Library, hospitals, and public transit. The police department receives about $460,000 in grant money, and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice gets $4.3 million.
City officials say they’re committed to remaining a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, despite pressure from the administration in Washington. “We are going to become this administration’s worst nightmare,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, according to an Associated Press report. The city is home to 585,000 undocumented immigrants.
12. Oakland, California
- Federal funding per resident: $963.87
- Total federal funding: $404,119,551
More than half of federal dollars flowing into Oakland go to the California city’s housing authority. The Oakland School District received $45 million in 2016. The city’s police department received $312,241.
“We’ll proudly stand as a sanctuary city — protecting our residents from what we deem unjust federal immigration laws — fight all forms of bigotry and advance our commitment to equity even more passionately,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said following Trump’s election in November.
11. Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Federal funding per resident: $1,000.92
- Total federal funding: $110,503,886
The liberal enclave of Cambridge has been a sanctuary city since 1985, when it moved to protect refugees fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Haiti. “Every Cambridge resident — regardless of their status — is encouraged to seek and obtain assistance from the many resources available to the Cambridge community. Cambridge remains a welcoming community for all,” Cambridge City Manager Louis DePasquale said.
The city received $110 million in federal money in 2016, including $85 million for the Cambridge Housing Authority. The city of Cambridge received roughly $23 million.
10. Richmond, Virginia
- Federal funding per resident: $1,011.27
- Total federal funding: $222,771,179
Over half of the money Richmond gets from the federal government goes to the city’s public schools. The police department received $74,852 in grant money.
Virginia’s capital hasn’t formally declared itself a sanctuary city, though some activists are pushing it to do so. Police in Richmond don’t ask about people’s immigration status and won’t detain undocumented immigrants for minor infractions. But if someone without legal status is arrested, he or she might be handed over to ICE.
9. Montpelier, Vermont
- Federal funding per resident: $1040.06
- Total federal funding: $7,896,123
Montpelier, the smallest capital city in the U.S., receives about $7.9 million in funding from the federal government, a drop in the bucket on the national level. But because the town has fewer than 8,000 people, it works out to more than $1,000 in spending per resident. As in many cities, much of it goes to schools. The police department doesn’t appear to receive any money directly, according to American Transparency. The city has a “Fair and Impartial Policing” policy and doesn’t comply with ICE detainer requests.
A famous college town is next on the list of cities that might lose money because of their stance on immigration.
8. New Haven, Connecticut
- Federal funding per resident: $1,079.26
- Total federal funding: $140,650,834.51
New Haven receives more than $140 million in federal funding, according to American Transparency. The city has vowed to remain a sanctuary city, despite the threat of financial losses.
“I believe it’s unconstitutional. We will fight it. If you want to make your dream come true, if you want to be a contributing member of our community, you are welcome here,” New Haven Mayor Toni Harp said of the sanctuary city crackdown. “Our police force, nor our schools are going to be places that harass law-abiding citizens.”
- Federal funding per resident: $1,149.37
- Total federal funding: $766,786,779
Of the roughly $767 million Boston received from the federal government in 2016, $408 million went to the city and another $233 million to the housing authority. The police department got $2.37 million in grants.
Boston has a law on the books saying police will not perform federal immigration duties, WBUR reported. “The threat of cutting federal funding from cities across the country that aim to foster trusting relationships between their law enforcement and the immigrant community is irresponsible and destructive,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has said.
Studies have found sanctuary cities that don’t cooperate with ICE in detaining illegal immigrants have lower crimes rates than those that do, NPR reported, because residents are more willing to cooperate with police if they don’t fear deportation.
6. Santa Cruz, California
- Federal funding per resident: $1,173.28
- Total federal funding: $75,348,344
Of the $75.3 million Santa Cruz received from the federal government, $66 million went the Santa Cruz Country Housing Authority. About $4 million went to public schools and another $3.3 million to the city itself.
The city recently passed a new law formalizing its sanctuary city status. Critics say it doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t prohibit the police department from cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security.
5. Providence, Rhode Island
- Federal funding per resident: $1,311.09
- Total federal funding: $234,956,112
The $234 million Providence received from the federal government in 2016 works out to $1,311 per resident. The bulk of that went to the city’s schools, but the Providence Police Department also received $375,000.
Providence is home to 27,000 undocumented immigrants, according to American Transparency. Although Mayor Jorge Elorza previously resisted calling Providence a sanctuary city, he changed his tune after Trump’s immigration orders. The city is exploring its options should the federal government try to withhold money, the Providence Journal reported. “When threatened, you lawyer up,” Elorza said at a public forum. “We’re consulting with national attorneys, local attorneys … If the federal government tries to withhold federal funds, we’ll say, ‘See you in court.”’
Trump already has a testy relationship with the next city on the list. Threatening to withdraw federal funds might only make it worse.
- Federal funding per resident: $1,942.86
- Total federal funding: $5,285,645,181
Chicago would lose out on nearly $2,000 in federal dollars per resident if the government withdrew all funds from the city, or $5.28 billion in total, according to American Transparency. A separate analysis by The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a nonpartisan think tank, found Chicago could lose as much as $78 million in money that goes to immigration and law enforcement. There are 285,000 undocumented immigrants living in the city.
Although the city stands to lose big if federal money disappears, city leaders say they’re not worried. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said the Department of Justice’s promise to withhold money from sanctuary cities is “a bit of a joke” because of funding cuts to the department in the president’s proposed budget, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
3. Winooski, Vermont
- Federal funding per resident: $2,021.75
- Total federal funding: $14,542,451
Winooski, a Vermont town of less than 8,000 just outside of Burlington, got $14 million in federal funding in 2016. About $13.4 million went to the town’s school district, with grants of a few hundred thousand also going to the town’s housing authority and soil and water conservation district. In November 2016, Winooski formally declared itself a sanctuary city.
The No. 2 city on this list is home to one of Trump’s most vocal critics.
2. Burlington, Vermont
- Federal funding per resident: $2,345.17
- Total federal funding: $99,557,246
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ hometown will lose more than all but one other city in the U.S. if Trump succeeds in defunding sanctuary cities. With nearly $100 million in federal funds pouring into the city for schools, housing, and other projects, it works out to $2,345 in spending per resident. The city’s police department received a grant of $625,000 from the federal government in 2016. The city moved to formalize its sanctuary city status after Trump’s election.
Which city could lose the most money because of its sanctuary city status? It’s right in Trump’s backyard.
1. Washington, D.C.
- Federal funding per resident: $3,228.23
- Total federal funding: $2,170,109,460.10
Unsurprisingly, residents of our nation’s capital stand to lose the most if Trump goes forward with his plan to defund sanctuary cities. The city receives a large chunk of its funding from the federal government, including $1.28 billion for the Department of Human Services and $168 million for transportation. Amounts from $11,000 to $111 million funded things, including the District of Columbia Center for Independent Living and public schools in 2016. The city has 25,000 undocumented residents, DCist reported.