San Francisco on Tuesday sued President Donald Trump, contending that an executive order aimed at cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities was unconstitutional.
The filing in federal court comes less than a week after Trump issued orders putting cities and counties on notice that they would lose federal funding if they didn’t start cooperating with immigration agents. The move has broad implications for California, a state that aggressively protects its undocumented population from deportation.
At a news conference Tuesday live-streamed by the city, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said Trump’s order was unconstitutional and “un-American.”
“Strong cities like San Francisco must continue to push the nation forward and remind America that we are a city that fights for what is right,” Mayor Ed Lee said.
The cities Trump is targeting have many tools to strike back. Among the most potent are high court decisions that have interpreted financial threats like the one Trump is now making as an unlawful intrusion on states’ rights.
Elected officials in California are skeptical about how aggressively Trump’s vague executive order can be enforced.
Trump left unclear what funding is at stake and which cities and counties are threatened. The administration would be on shaky legal ground going after money allocated for anything other than law enforcement, and taking funds away from police is a risky proposition for a new president promising to restore order in the streets. And even that, attorneys for the Legislature assert, takes an act of Congress.
More than 400 jurisdictions across the country have some sort of policy regarding how they deal with people in the country illegally, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and about 40 others in California.
There is no neat definition of “sanctuary city,” but in general, cities that adopt the designation seek to offer political support or practical protections to people who are in the country illegally.
For some cities, the sanctuary movement consists simply of encouraging people without legal status to get more involved in government. For instance, the city of Huntington Park has never declared itself a sanctuary city, but appointed two people without legal status to a city commission, a move that generated national attention.
Other places, such as San Francisco, adopt far-reaching policies, such as taking steps to cut ties with federal immigration officials and refusing to fully cooperate with them. San Francisco declared itself a sanctuary city in 1989, and city officials strengthened the stance in 2013 with its “Due Process for All” ordinance. The law declared that local authorities could not keep immigrants in custody to be handed over to federal immigration officials if they had no violent felonies on their records and did not face charges.
San Francisco entered the national debate over immigration this summer, when Kathryn Steinle was fatally shot by Mexican national Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez in the Embarcadero neighborhood.
Lopez-Sanchez had been deported five times before he shot Steinle. Trump described the murder as “a senseless and totally preventable violent act committed by an illegal immigrant.”
San Francisco’s lawsuit comes amid growing rancor over Trump’s orders, which include restrictions on travel from some Muslim countries and plans to build a border wall.