President Donald Trump started the process of denying federal grants to cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration laws. Mayors of many large California cities, but not all, have declared they will resist the order and keep sanctuary status for undocumented immigrants. If the president is eventually successful in denying funds to sanctuary cities will local taxpayers bail out cities with additional tax revenue? That would be the ultimate test of voters’ support or rejection of sanctuary city policy.
We are a long way from that point but it is worth considering. Congress has to approve the reduced revenue to sanctuary cities. Lawsuits will be adjudicated since challenges are bound to be filed claiming the federal government cannot deny funds for local policies. Local government leaders in California also promise to establish funds for individuals to defend themselves against federal immigration deportation actions. These lawsuits and legal defense funds will add to taxpayer costs.
The debate over sanctuary for illegal immigrants is being fought on moral grounds. One side calls it a human rights issue. The other side asks how long civil society can function if people or institutions pick and choose the laws they will obey.
But support for and against the sanctuary policy may ultimately be measured in dollars and cents.
One indication of support or lack thereof for sanctuary policy is a poll conducted by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Government Studies (IGS). That poll showed 73% opposed the idea of sanctuary cities and that opposition was across the political spectrum. Yet, a more recent poll from the Hoover Institution had an even split on the question of sanctuary cities.
IGS director Jack Citrin points out that the poll results depend on how the question is asked. “In the IGS Survey which simply focused on cooperation with federal authorities in the case of someone arrested and detained, a large majority opposed non-cooperation, but this declined and became more polarized by party and ideology in the Hoover question which gave reasons for each position and noted that police chiefs felt this might deter cooperation in solving other crimes,” he said.
Citrin notes that Trump’s opposition to the policy tends to polarize the attitude of voters.
So will taxpayers be willing to support politicians defiance with their dollars, especially as some officials advocate for more taxes to increase traditional government services?
Citrin’s view: “This would be a good test of public opinion, particularly if the price was simply to hand over people charged or convicted as criminals. California has been willing to raise taxes recently, but mainly taxes on the rich. This kind of a tax might have a chance in highly liberal communities which now are exuding bravado and resistance but again depending on the framing and the size of the tax it wouldn’t be a slam dunk.”