Trump Mulls Withholding Virus Relief From Sanctuary Cities

By Suzanne Monyak
Law360 is providing free access to its coronavirus coverage to make sure all members of the legal community have accurate information in this time of uncertainty and change. Use the form below to sign up for any of our weekly newsletters. Signing up for any of our section newsletters will opt you in to the weekly Coronavirus briefing.

Sign up for our Immigration newsletter

You must correct or enter the following before you can sign up:

Select more newsletters to receive for free [+] Show less [-]

Thank You!

Law360 (April 28, 2020, 9:48 PM EDT) -- President Donald Trump said Tuesday he may withhold federal aid from states with cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, the latest move by the president to crack down on immigration during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at an event with small business leaders, Trump said he wanted to include "sanctuary city adjustments" when distributing federal funds to support states fighting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Congress passed a $484 billion relief bill on Thursday to help small businesses and health care providers, and lawmakers are currently discussing additional relief bills that could include support for states and local governments.

"The problem with the states is we're not looking to recover 25 years of bad management and give them the money that they lost. It's unfair to other states," Trump said. "Now if it's COVID-related, I guess we could talk about it. But we'd want certain things also, including sanctuary city adjustments, because we have so many people in sanctuary cities, which I don't even think are popular even by radical left folks, because what's happening is people are being protected that shouldn't be protected, and a lot of bad things are happening with sanctuary cities."

New York Attorney General Letitia James slammed the president's remarks as "another attempt to again feed his base and push the same partisan ideology we've seen for the last three years." She said the state would take legal action if necessary.

"New York is proud of its status as a sanctuary state that welcomes and will fight to protect its immigrant residents — many of whom are fighting on the front lines to battle the coronavirus," James said in a statement Tuesday. "It is my sincerest hope that one day the president will wake up and realize the power of his words. Until that day comes, we will be ready to take legal action."

A White House spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for more details late Tuesday.

The Trump administration has tried for years to attach immigration-related conditions to receipt of federal public safety grants, though its efforts have largely been thwarted by federal judges.

Most recently, a Colorado federal judge blocked the U.S. Department of Justice this month from withholding $2.8 million in federal funding for local law enforcement until the state agreed to give federal immigration authorities access to local jails and notice of release dates for people suspected to be living in the U.S. without authorization, among other measures.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement Tuesday that the administration cannot impose immigration conditions on relief aid to states without permission from Congress and that Colorado is "prepared to go to court again to challenge illegal conduct by the administration and to protect Colorado's sovereignty."

However, in February, the Second Circuit approved several immigration-related conditions the DOJ had imposed on a group of states, led by New York, hoping to receive public safety grant money. The decision marks a split with the Seventh, Ninth and Third circuits, which have all upheld lower court orders preventing the administration from imposing the conditions on the grant funding.

The Trump administration has also enacted a number of measures cutting back on immigration during the coronavirus pandemic.

The administration has essentially ended asylum at the U.S border under a public health statute that allows the government to quickly send back foreigners who could be bringing communicable diseases. And last week, Trump signed a presidential proclamation barring many foreigners abroad from moving to the U.S. on new green cards, including parents of U.S. citizens and relatives of U.S. permanent residents.

The administration has also kept up deportation flights and resisted calls to halt all in-person immigration proceedings and extend visa deadlines.

--Additional reporting by Andrew Kragie. Editing by Aaron Pelc.

For a reprint of this article, please contact

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!