Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

San Francisco Sues Feds Over Sanctuary City Ban

San Francisco became the first city Tuesday to challenge President Donald Trump's executive order that directs the government to begin enforcement actions against sanctuary cities while also threatening to withhold federal funding from them.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – San Francisco became the first city Tuesday to challenge President Donald Trump's executive order that directs the government to begin enforcement actions against sanctuary cities while also threatening to withhold federal funding from them.

"The president's executive order is not only unconstitutional, it's un-American," San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said at a press conference Tuesday.

Herrera filed the lawsuit on behalf of the city and county of San Francisco and named Trump, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Director John Kelly and Dana Boente, the acting U.S. Attorney General and the federal government as defendants.

The legal crux of the lawsuit focuses on the concept of federalism, as Herrera asserts the U.S. Constitution grants state and local governments the power to make decisions in the interest of their residents.

"President Trump does not appear to understand the Constitution and the limits it imposes on executive power," Herrera said during the press conference.

The city also says Trump's executive order relies on a section of the United States Code which provides that local governments may not prohibit or restrict any government entity or official from “sending to, or receiving from, [federal immigration officials] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status . . . of any individual.”

Herrera said the section, Title 8, Section 1373, is unconstitutional on its face as it applies to San Francisco and other sanctuary cities.

"The executive order is a severe invasion of San Francisco’s sovereignty," the city says in the complaint. "The Executive Branch may not commandeer state and local officials to enforce federal law."

San Francisco's lawsuit joins a slew of other state and local agencies that are challenging elements of Trump's recent raft of executive orders.

The state of Washington's Attorney General Bob Ferguson became the first state AG to sue the Trump administration on Monday. Ferguson's lawsuit challenges an executive order Trump issued on Friday, which temporarily closes the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries and indefinitely bans all refugees from Syria.

Ferguson has since been joined New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who announced separately that they are joining lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other public interest groups.

On Sunday, 17 different state attorneys general signed a letter vowing to "use all the tools of our office to fight this unconstitutional order." Some of the AG's hailed from red states such as Iowa, or states that narrowly tipped to Trump, like Pennsylvania.

While San Francisco is the first city to pursue a lawsuit against the Trump administration on the principles of federalism, it is not likely to be the last, as other powerful cities such as New York, San Jose, Los Angeles have come out against the provision in Trump's order that attacks the sovereignty of sanctuary cities.

Still, San Francisco stands to lose a lot if Trump follows through on his threat to withdraw federal funding. The city receives approximately $1.2 billion in federal funds annually, most of which goes to health, nutrition and other safety net programs, Herrera said.

Mayor Ed Lee has said San Francisco's values have made it a target for the Trump administration.

"Our city's values, the way we've conducted ourselves as an entire city to protect our immigrant populations and we have talked strongly about our inclusiveness," Lee said at the press conference. "That is why it is no surprise this president has continued to make us a target."

Both Lee and Herrera also criticized Trump's policy approach toward sanctuary cities as unsound, asserting that a lack of sanctuary status actually abets crime, as undocumented victims of crimes such as domestic violence are more likely to report in cities and counties with sanctuary policies.

Tom Wong, an associate professor of political philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, conducted a recent study that found reduced crime rates in cities and counties with sanctuary policies when compared with those without.

"Crime is statistically significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties," Wong wrote in the study.  "Moreover, economies are stronger in sanctuary counties – from higher median household income, less poverty and less reliance on public assistance, to higher labor force participation, higher employment-to-population ratios, and lower unemployment."

There are approximately 400 cities and counties throughout the United States that have some form of sanctuary policy on the books, according to Wong's study.

Critics of sanctuary policies and the cities and counties that espouse them say taxpayers who are legal citizens have to underwrite services such as roads, police, fire and hospitals for people who benefit, but do not contribute, to the system.

They further argue that sanctuary policies breed a disregard for the rule of law, allowing those who have ignored immigration rules to continue to do so with impunity and perhaps implicitly encouraging others to disregard any law that happens to inconvenience them.

A flashpoint moment for critics of illegal immigration in general and sanctuary cities in particular came in July 2015, when 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was killed by a Mexican immigrant who had been convicted of a felony and already deported back to Mexico several times.

However, Lee and Herrera said San Francisco policy requires the city to forward fingerprints to the federal government in the event of crimes, and that it stands ready to collaborate with federal immigration officials in carrying out aspects of their mission.

But city officials have vowed to stop short of allowing local law enforcement officials to become a de facto arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We are all safer when everyone, including undocumented immigrants, feels safe reporting crimes,” Herrera said.  “We are all healthier when every resident has access to public health programs. We are all smarter and economically stronger when every child attends school.”

San Francisco wants a federal judge to render Section 1373 unconstitutional and bar the unconstitutional aspects of Trump's executive order.

As of press time, Trump has been named in 41 federal lawsuits dealing with immigration, refugees, his perceived conflicts of interest and the Emoluments Clause, all filed within his first 11 days as president, according to CNN.

Follow @@MatthewCRenda
Categories / Courts, Government

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.