President Trump on Wednesday promised to crack down on sanctuary cities, and signed an executive order authorizing the federal government to strip federal funding from cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul that prohibit their police from acting as immigration enforcement agents.
Such an action could have wide-ranging impact in the Twin Cities, where Mayors Chris Coleman and Betsy Hodges have vowed to keep in place ordinances that separate the work of local police from that of federal immigration enforcement.
The point of those local ordinances — each more than 10 years old — is to aide law enforcement by encouraging undocumented immigrants to speak with police without fear of deportation.
"We will continue to aggressively defend this common-sense practice to ensure that Minneapolis remains safe and welcoming for everyone," said Hodges, Council President Barb Johnson and Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden in a joint statement Wednesday.
Trump's executive order on Wednesday did not specifically define sanctuary jurisdictions, but said they "have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic." He gave his Secretary of Homeland Security the discretion to designate local governments as sanctuary jurisdictions if they "willfully refuse to comply" with federal immigration law and, with the help of the attorney general, ensure that they are not eligible to receive federal grants.
Hodges said City Attorney Susan Segal is studying Trump's order, but as long as she is mayor she will fight to keep the city's separation ordinance in place, even if that means losing federal money.
"It'll be a problem to solve in the budget, and I don't look forward to having to do that, but a bigger problem is when we jeopardize and undermine the foundations of our democracy," Hodges said.
Coleman said he doubts the executive order applies to cities with separation ordinances, since they are not in violation of federal law, but regardless, "We're going to continue to do what we do in the city of St. Paul," Coleman said. "We are going to continue to honor our separation ordinance."
Federal dollars only account for a small share of the Minneapolis and St. Paul budgets — $27.7 million and $14.6 million, respectively — which is a stark contrast to a city like Chicago, where federal money accounts for $1.3 billion of the budget.
Mark Ruff, the chief financial officer of Minneapolis, said that is because so many major government services in the Twin Cities are regionalized, and so the federal money never passes through the city budget.
"We have a Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, and I don't think their full budget is counted in our budget, and in Chicago it might be," Ruff said. "Denver and San Francisco control their own airports. You think about how big the airport budget is, if Minneapolis had the airport in its budget, that would be a significant source of money. We don't have that situation."
In other places, city governments handle wastewater systems, transit and schools, but that's not the case in the Twin Cities.
It's unclear from the executive order whether jurisdictions other than the city could be scrutinized by Trump's Department of Homeland Security and have their federal funding stripped, but the language doesn't rule that out.
The Metropolitan Council has $91 million of federal funding in its 2017 budget. The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority's 2015 budget included $84 million in federal subsidies and grants. The Metropolitan Airports Commission has $1.5 million in federal money in its capital improvement projects budget for 2017, but also expects to spend $71 million in passenger facility charges that are collected locally by the airlines but passed through the Federal Aviation Administration back to the airports.
Mayors push back
Neither Hodges nor Coleman likes the term "sanctuary cities," instead preferring to speak about their cities' separation ordinances. Minneapolis's ordinance was passed in 2003, and St. Paul's was passed in 2004. Each prohibits police from becoming involved in routine immigration enforcement, where immigration is the main issue.
Coleman, in a recent Op-Ed, explained that the ordinance does not offer safe harbor to criminals, and if those criminals also are in violation of federal immigration law, they will be dealt with by the Department of Homeland Security.
But he also pointed out that the term "sanctuary cities" isn't well-defined.
"I suspect that every city now being described as a 'sanctuary city' would be more accurately described as having a separation ordinance," Coleman wrote.
The Minneapolis 2017 budget's $27.7 million in federal funding is mostly in the form of Community Development Block Grants for an affordable housing trust fund and the Health Department.
"It's a fair amount of housing and social services activity in the city," Ruff said.
The amount of federal money the city receives for law enforcement varies by year and program, but is less than $1 million, Ruff said.
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405