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Former DOJ Attorney Doubts Trump Sanctuary City Order's Influence

401(K) 2012 / Flickr

401(K) 2012 / Flickr

A flurry of concern in California has followed Donald Trump's executive order last week to withdraw federal funding from sanctuary cities, a loose definition for cities with laws to protect immigrants in the country illegally.

But a former Department of Justice immigration lawyer says the president’s action will likely have limited effect.

Leon Fresco oversaw civil immigration cases for the Obama Administration. He says the federal government generally can’t withhold grants, and he points to a section of the Obamacare law the Supreme Court struck down.

The justices ruled the federal government could not threaten to cut off Medicaid funding to states that chose not to expand the program.

"The court decision there said that if you’re going to condition action from states and localities on federal funding, the federal funding has to be narrowly-tailored and related to the actual conduct that you’re trying to regulate," says Fresco.

Fresco believes the Department of Justice could look to tie three local law enforcement grants to city immigration policies: Community-Oriented Policing Services grants, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program awards.

If justice department officials look to restrict those grants, court challenges will likely center on whether local law enforcement must assist federal immigration agents.

"That is sort of the flash-point of where litigation will end up at some point," Fresco says.

Whatever the outcome of the inevitable lawsuits, only a relatively small portion of city funding would hinge on it.

In Oakland, those grants account for about $2.5 million for the city and county. The city alone has a $1.2 billion budget.

Los Angeles receives less than $5 million from those grants for the city's $9 billion budget, while the county sees $6 million.

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