What You Need To Know To Understand San Francisco's Lawsuit Against President Trump

On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed Executive Order 13768 which, in essence, was a direct attack on this country's sanctuary cities. Six days later, on January 31, 2017, in response to the executive order, San Francisco filed a lawsuit against President Trump and his administration. San Francisco may have been the first to file such a suit, but it undoubtedly will not be the last.

Viewed cynically, the executive order provides a means for the President to target traditionally liberal cities who likely supported his former opponent and have continued to oppose his agenda. San Francisco, as just one example, relies on the federal government for nearly $1 out of every $7 in its overall budget. Having those federal funds taken away would impact not only San Francisco's immigration programs, but everything from foster care to basic infrastructure. The President's own rhetoric, both during his campaign and in office, support the retaliatory nature of the order.

Articles, blogs, posts, podcasts and talking heads have already hit the airwaves (and interwebs) discussing the pros and cons of sanctuary cities and the President's order. However, few have actually discussed how we got here. Rather than add to the cacophony of opinions, I will attempt to provide an overview of the history of the sanctuary city movement.

So, what is a sanctuary city? While the specific definition is in dispute--and will likely continue to be a point of contention--generally, it is a city that decides not to use its resources to assist the federal government in enforcing its immigration laws. While sanctuary cities have been around since ancient Rome, their first appearance in the United States was in Los Angeles in 1979. They quickly grew to prominence in the 1980's and currently exist--in one form or another--in over 50 cities, spanning over 15 states.

As can be expected, the rise of sanctuary cities precipitated a backlash. In 2007, 2011 and 2015, Republican representatives introduced federal legislation targeting sanctuary cities. Several states, including Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas, also introduced bills to curtail or prohibit sanctuary cities. And, of course, President Trump recently signed Executive Order 13768.

The executive order is grounded in Title 8, Section 1373 of the United States Code, which prohibits local governments from restricting the sharing of information with the federal government regarding an individual's immigration status. In the order, the President equates "sanctuary jurisdictions" with cities that "willfully refuse to comply with [section] 1373." The order further gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to designate what city is, and is not, a "sanctuary jurisdiction" and once designated, allows the Secretary and the Attorney General to withhold federal funds from that city.

If San Francisco is found to be a sanctuary jurisdiction and has its federal funding revoked, it would be economically devastating. By its own claim, San Francisco receives in excess of $1.2 billion annually from federal funds, which makes up about13% of its overall budget. If these funds were revoked, programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, foster care, child welfare, infrastructure, public health, and veterans' services--just to name a few--would suffer.

San Francisco's lawsuit makes the following two broad arguments: (1) that San Francisco complies with section 1373 and therefore is not a "sanctuary jurisdiction" and (2) that both section 1373 and the President's executive order violate the 10th Amendment. The former argument stems from the difference between not allocating public funds in support of federal immigration policies and actively prohibiting the sharing of information. The latter argument involves the separation of powers doctrine and would take up an entire article by itself to fully discuss.

Regardless of the arguments and political opinions, the withdrawal of federal funds would have a detrimental effect on all San Francisco residents. It would also place San Francisco, as well as its sister-sanctuary cities, in the impossible position of either fundamentally changing their policies or seeing their citizens suffer.