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3 reasons it might be difficult for Trump to withhold funding from 'sanctuary cities' like LA

Downtown Los Angeles is photographed March 6, 2003 in Los Angeles,  California.
Downtown Los Angeles is photographed March 6, 2003 in Los Angeles, California.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti isn’t budging on the city’s immigration stance, even with the threat of cut-offs to federal funding.

According to the L.A. Times, the president-elect’s pick for White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that Trump is exploring ways to cut federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities. Los Angeles is expected to receive $500 million in federal funds this fiscal year, which would include help with homeless shelters and port security.

Garcetti said Monday that doing so would be a “mistake,” and cause social and economic problems.

With Garcetti and many of the city’s leaders going against Trump’s immigration stance, what could the federal government actually do to cut off funding to Los Angeles?

Aside from a lengthy and exhausting Congressional fight, here are three reasons why withholding federal monies could backfire, according to former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky:

1. Trump would have to take on LA — and many other cities across the nation.

Yaroslavsky: For the Federal government to take on Los Angeles or New York, and virtually every major city in America that has a large immigrant population. . . Atlanta, Houston, Portland San Diego--you're taking on a big chunk of America, and is this really what the White House wants to do? 

2. Since the term "sanctuary city" is largely symbolic and has no legal power, withholding funds wouldn't create much payoff.  

Yaroslavsky: Sanctuary cities have no legal standing whatsoever. . . It's a symbolic statement on behalf of the city on immigration. .  . For Priebus or the president-elect to say that a sanctuary city has any legal function is absurd. If the White House wants to say to New York or Los Angeles, 'Rescind your symbolic resolution, or we're gonna withhold a billion dollars from your light rail project,' [it wouldn't make sense] at a time when the president-elect is talking about increasing funding for infrastructure development.

3. Local law enforcement would have difficulty finding resources to enforce immigration law (and it would be too costly for the federal government to step in).

Yaroslavsky: What I think the Chief of Police Charlie Beck and others have said across the country is, 'Don't ask my police department to go out and round up people in their homes. If the federal government wants to do that, let them hire 10,000 or 100,000 new federal police officers and do it. There are more important crimes that local law enforcement has to be dealing with. .  . Our cities are under policed, they don't have the capacity to go out and do more.


Zev Yaroslavsky, former Los Angeles County Supervisor, and is now affiliated with the UCLA’s history department, and the Luskin School of Public Affairs; he tweets @ZevYaroslavsky