Trump’s order to defund sanctuary cities faces legal questions in SF

City officials are questioning whether President Donald Trump has the power to strip San Francisco of federal funding despite the executive order he signed Wednesday to crack down on sanctuary cities across the nation.

Under the executive order, Trump directed the U.S. Attorney General to defund cities in violation of federal law by refusing to turn over information on a person’s immigration status to federal authorities. That means San Francisco could lose the roughly $1 billion a year it receives in federal funds directly or through the state.

But John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, said Thursday that San Francisco is not violating that federal law.

“This executive order is based on the false premise that sanctuary cities are violating federal law,” Cote said. “San Francisco is in full compliance with federal law, including the federal law relied on in this order.”

Local law bans city agencies and officials from cooperating with the investigations of federal immigration authorities. It also bans them from disclosing the release dates of undocumented inmates. However, it doesn’t prohibit city agencies from releasing a person’s immigration status, according to Cote.

“The plain language of that law talks about information regarding someone’s citizenship or immigration status,” “Nothing in San Francisco’s sanctuary statutes violates that law,” Cote said.

The argument is just one of many that the City Attorney’s Office has readied to challenge the executive order in court, but declined to share with the public.

In a statement Wednesday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the threat of cutting off federal funding to coerce sanctuary cities “violates the law, and it will be challenged.”

Meanwhile, a local expert on sanctuary city policy questioned whether Trump has the legal authority to cut all of San Francisco’s federal funding, or just the funding related to protecting undocumented immigrants.

Police Commissioner Bill Hing, a professor at the University of San Francisco, said the funding cuts would have to be related to sanctuary policy that San Francisco has because of the “germaneness” rule.

“San Francisco gets a lot of federal housing money, there’s just no way in hell they could tamper with the federal housing money,” Hing said. “That has nothing to do with immigration. On the other hand, San Francisco does get law enforcement money.”

Hing also said the federal government cannot rescind federal funds to coerce a local government into doing its job. However, the federal government could place restrictions on the use of funding as well as small penalties for incorrect uses.

For instance, the government could cut a small percentage of the $10 million that San Francisco receives for law enforcement through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to Hing.

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