New York

President Trump to NYC: Divide and Fall

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As part of his daily cascade of haphazardly written and possibly unenforceable Executive Orders, President Donald Trump zeroed in on sanctuary cities yesterday, promising to withhold federal funding from municipalities that don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. That means several major cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, might soon be without a huge amount of federal support, all because these cities don’t go out of their way to help the federal government deport large amounts of their population.

The language of this Executive Order is as vague as many of Trump’s presidential edicts, but generally instructs the Attorney General (who will be Jeff Sessions, once he is certainly approved by the Senate) to find jurisdictions that “willfully refuse to comply” with federal immigration law. That might be hard to prove, as none of these cities are actually in violation of federal immigration law (again, they simply don’t go out of their way to assist federal authorities in locating and detaining immigrants targeted for deportation). But that’s why Trump is leaving it up to Sessions to decide which cities fall within this “sanctuary jurisdiction” designation — it can be whatever city Trump wants to feel the pain.

And if there’s a city on the top of his list to feel some of his wrath, it might just be his hometown of New York City, the city that he’s currently bleeding tax dollars from for his ludicrous security detail. About 9% — around $7 billion — of New York City’s budget comes from the federal government, according to a report by the comptroller released last year, with the majority of those programs concentrated on social programs that support homeless services, food benefits, AIDS initiatives, and the city’s counter-terrorism campaign. True to his “law-and-order” rhetoric, Trump created a carve out in the executive order that federal money wouldn’t be withheld from law enforcement, so it’s not New York City’s finest who will be dealing with the fallout of this xenophobic war — it will be its poorest.

In addition, Trump has instructed the Secretary of Homeland Security to publish a list of “crimes” committed “by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens.” Essentially, Trump is federalizing Steve Bannon’s “Black Crime” header from Breitbart, where crime committed specifically by a group of color is somehow reported differently from all other types of crime.

Responding to Trump’s executive order, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he believed he had firm legal footing to challenge the executive order based on the ruling in NFIB v. Sibelius, which prohibited the federal government from withholding funds to achieve a desired outcome from a state. Ironically, it was the opinion of the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that argued that the federal government couldn’t compel Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act by threatening to withhold all Medicaid funds if states resisted the expansion. This same opinion gives “sanctuary” cities the ability to challenge the law.

“I want to note that we believe that we are on solid ground for the legal challenge to the executive order, should the occasion arise and be necessary,” de Blasio said at a press conference following the executive order yesterday.

However, until the executive order can be challenged in court (which could take years), it is effectively the law of the land. So what exactly does that mean?

Congress budgets out the federal grants that cities rely on to fund much of their social services, and if Congress takes this order seriously, it would be subject to action from the Department of Justice for continuing to budget out funds for “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Preparing for this confrontation, de Blasio allocated $5 billion in city reserves in his preliminary budget proposal on Tuesday, preparing to step up city funding for social programs if the federal government were to begin to cut off New York City.

One specific area of concern that de Blasio mentioned was the support for affordable housing, including Section 8 housing and vouchers. Without federal support, those programs and commitments would be seriously undermined, and de Blasio’s own affordable housing plan would be shot — over 85 percent of the city’s Housing and Preservation Department’s operating budget comes from federal sources. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, which provides cash to the lowest income New Yorkers, is the largest federal program in New York City and would be eliminated if the executive order was taken seriously. Public schools could lose a huge amount of funding through the Title I program, which provides after-school and enrichment activities.

Since the day after Trump’s election, New Yorkers feared that he would turn its immigrant population against those who rely most heavily on the social safety net. Within his first week in office, that has become a reality.

Speaking after Mayor de Blasio yesterday at the City Hall press conference, City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito took the podium visibly outraged. “If there was every any doubt in anyone’s mind whether Trump’s bigoted, hateful, divisive rhetoric truly reflected his intentions,” Mark-Viverito told reporters, “we’ve seen that on display right now.”

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