President Donald Trump's executive order threatening to withhold federal funds from "sanctuary" states and cities hangs over Monday's scheduled vote on a Howard County measure designed to reassure its immigrant community, and it puts him on a collision course with Mayor Catherine Pugh and other local leaders whose jurisdictions have long trumpeted such policies. We urge the leaders of Maryland's cities and counties that have enacted policies that maintain a clear separation between federal enforcement of immigration laws and local law enforcement not to back down.
That Mr. Trump would take this step isn't surprising, given the belligerent, bullying attitude toward immigrants that was so evident during his campaign. But now that Mr. Trump has been elected president, he may be forced to recognize that the law in this case is not on his side — indeed, he may have seriously underestimated the problems he has brought upon himself by threatening to punish localities for not doing the feds' bidding on immigration.
First and foremost, the kinds of policies Baltimore follows, and Howard County is considering codifying, foster public safety. When immigrants fear that interacting with local police could lead to deportation for them or their loved ones, they are less likely to report crimes or serve as witnesses. That puts the entire community at risk by leaving dangerous criminals on the streets. Deputizing local police as immigration agents is also likely to result in racial profiling, as occurred recently in Bel Air, where two police officers stopped a woman who had lived in the community for decades and asked about her immigration status.
The president's executive order is also likely unconstitutional in its threat to cut all federal funding not otherwise mandated by law to jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. The Trump administration wants a variety of help from the locals, from notifying Immigrations and Customs Enforcement when undocumented immigrants are arrested or detained to housing suspects in local lockups until federal officers take them into custody.
Yet it's a bedrock principle of our federal system that, under the Tenth Amendment, Washington can't force states or municipalities to perform duties for which the federal government has sole responsibility. The Trump administration simply cannot commandeer state and local entities to do Washington's bidding against their will, and the Supreme Court has previously blocked federal attempts to use its purse strings to coerce cooperation.
Even when the courts have allowed federal agencies to restrict some local funding, the cuts come with conditions. They have to be reasonably proportional to the size of the original grant — generally no more than 5 percent to 10 percent — and they also must be related to the condition the government hopes to satisfy. If the administration wants local jurisdictions to hunt down undocumented immigrants on construction sites, for example, it can't threaten to cut Head Start funding or shut down public health programs. Nor can it be deliberately punitive, for example by threatening to defund school lunch programs for needy children or other vital programs and services.
A number of cities have already indicated that they will defy Mr. Trump's order, and some have already gone to court. Baltimore is heavily dependent on federal funds, but the city is on solid ground in resisting President Trump's attempt at intimidation.
In Howard County, the sanctuary bill has sparked passions from both sides — out of proportion, perhaps, to its actual impact. It would neither make the community a magnet for crime nor markedly change the county's existing practices. Even if Mr. Trump somehow did cut off federal aid to "sanctuary" jurisdictions, Howard gets comparatively little to begin with. County Executive Allan Kittleman raised some legitimate concerns about how the bill would impact the limited cooperation that presently exists between county police and ICE agents on matters not directly related to deportations, but amendments under consideration would adequately address those issues.
Yet his promise to veto the measure belies a failure to understand just how threatened many in the immigrant community feel amid President Trump's aggressive moves on immigration, including a travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations that separated families and stranded travelers at airports around the world. The measure may be mainly symbolic, but this is a time when such symbolic gestures have tangible meaning. Howard County should join Baltimore and other cities and counties throughout the nation in declaring that they welcome everyone and will leave immigration enforcement up to the federal government.