The city of Chicago and sister agencies could lose at least $3.6 billion in federal aid next year if President-elect Donald Trump carries through with a threat to deny all funding to communities that refuse to help his efforts to deport undocumented residents, a BGA analysis shows.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and leaders of many other so-called sanctuary cities have emphatically vowed to resist Trump, whose campaign centered on pledges to build a wall along the Mexican border and expel millions now here without legal status.

It’s a battle so far shaping up around many caveats.

While Trump’s campaign rhetoric on immigration was sweeping, he was never clear on specifics and has been even fuzzier since the election. The transition has seen him back away from earlier stands on a number of other issues.

Also up in the air is whether he would even have the authority to carry out his fund-slashing threat. Many legal experts doubt it.

That said, the game of chicken now building between Trump and urban mayors has the potential to jeopardize resources for an array of critical services in Chicago from feeding low-income pregnant women and school-aged children to fixing roads, bridges and train stations. Federal funding also pays for hiring new police officers, retraining workers, as well housing low-income families and supplementing the costs of educating most children in the Chicago Public Schools.

>> Read this story at Crain’s Chicago Business

The term “sanctuary” is not a legal definition, but a loose designation that stems from policies adopted by hundreds of counties and municipalities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The term is disliked by sympathetic politicians who argue that the intent is not to harbor undocumented immigrants but to signal to those residents that local resources won’t be used to hunt them down in the service of federal authorities.

The undocumented live, by definition, in the shadows. But a recent study by the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2014 there were some 11.1 million foreign born people lacking legal immigration status in the U.S., a figure that has remained unchanged since 2009. Of them, 8 million, or 5 percent of the labor force, were either working or seeking to find jobs, including 450,000 in Illinois.

Chicago’s “sanctuary” policies date back to a 1985 executive order from then Mayor Harold Washington that prohibited city employees from asking people about their immigration status and required all city forms to delete any questions about a person’s citizenship or residency status. In 2006, City Council expanded the executive order by adopting the “Welcoming City” ordinance, which also set clear guidelines for the Chicago Police Department. 

 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city will always be a “sanctuary” city at a press conference in support of immigrant and diverse communities on Nov. 14. His comments were in reaction to president-elect Donald Trump’s threat to cut all federal funding to “sanctuary" cities.
 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city will always be a “sanctuary” city at a press conference in support of immigrant and diverse communities on Nov. 14.  | Alejandra Cancino, BGA

The ordinance prohibits the arrest or detention of a person solely on the belief that they are in the country illegally. City officials wanted to build trust between the police department and undocumented immigrants, with the hope that they would come out of the shadows if they are victims or witnesses of a crime.

The ordinance allows police officers to ignore requests from immigration authorities to hold people in detention after they would have been released for up to 48 hours so that they can take custody and possibly deport them. The “detainers” are part of federal programs that since 2001 have expanded local involvement in the enforcement of immigration laws.

This lack of cooperation is what flames efforts to cut federal funding. Some Republicans, including Trump, argue that Sanctuary Cities like Chicago are allowing dangerous criminals to roam the streets. But studies of cities honoring detainer requests have found that the majority of people flagged do not have serious criminal histories.

A 2013 study of detainer requests in King County, Washington, found that a misdemeanor was the most serious crime for more than half of inmates with a detainer request. What’s more, some of those slapped with a detainer request are U.S. citizens or legal residents, whose immigration status isn’t clear because of glitches in the system.

Earlier this year, a federal court in Chicago ruled that immigration detainers violate federal law because they are not supported by warrants. The law allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to detain a person without a warrant, but only if it has reason to believe the person “is likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained for his arrest.”

ICE acknowledged that it didn’t make that determination for every person but argued it didn’t need to because, by definition, any undocumented person arrested is likely to escape once released. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee dismissed that argument and added that even if they are likely to escape, ICE has enough time to obtain a warrant while they are serving their sentence.

“(The immigration detainers) are basically as good as a postcard, for legal purposes,” said Mark Fleming, an attorney at the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center and one of the attorneys in the case.

Trump didn’t create the idea of stripping funding from sanctuary cities, but he is the megaphone that brought it to the masses. In the last decade, Republican lawmakers in Washington have introduced at least 19 bills with a similar goal.

Some single out specific funds, such as the Community Development Block Grant, a program created in the 1970s to combat poverty in cities. Chicago alone is expected to receive at least $72 million from the program next year to build or rehabilitate affordable homes and to pay for an array of services for low-income residents.

The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, which injects funds to local law enforcement agencies, including at least $9.6 million to the Chicago Police Department, has also been in the chopping block.

Bill Ong Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco and director of the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, pointed to ironic parallels between Trump’s threat to financially punish sanctuary cities and legal arguments made by conservatives in opposition to Obamacare.

Conservatives, including 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, challenged two key provisions of the healthcare law. One required most Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. The second required states to expand their Medicaid programs or lose all federal funding for them.

The court ruled that the federal government had the authority to tax individuals who do not buy health insurance. But it also said that Washington could not unilaterally cut Medicaid funding to force a state to participate in Obamacare through an expansion of Medicaid.

Applying the same logic to the sanctuary city debate, Ong Hing said it could be unconstitutional to cut all federal funding to cities. One exception, he said, could be funds closely related to immigration enforcement, including reimbursements to local law enforcement for the costs of detaining undocumented immigrants.

The map above tracks jurisdictions that do not comply with “detainer” requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including five states and more than 500 counties and municipalities. | Map by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center

In Chicago, federal aid mostly funds the city’s social safety net.

For city government proper, federal funding accounts for about 15 percent of the estimated $10 billion total revenue for fiscal 2017. Most of the federal money comes in form of grants, including more than $100 million to combat homelessness and preserve affordable housing.

The city also expects $178 million in federal funds for infrastructure projects, such as fixing roads and bridges. That money is separate from anything that might be contained in a $1 trillion national infrastructure plan proposed but not detailed by Trump.

The Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Housing Authority receive the biggest chunk of federal funding after the city.

CPS expects to receive $861 million, including more than $300 million as part of a program to help underwrite education for low-income students who comprise more than 80 percent of youngsters enrolled in Chicago schools. The federal government also injects some $208 million into CPS to feed low-income children.

The $826 million in federal funds flowing into the Chicago Housing Authority accounts for more than 90 percent of the revenue the agency receives to administer public housing and housing voucher programs.

Meanwhile, the city college system expects $165 million in grants to help low-income students pay for tuition and fees, for developing new programs and for an array of student services, such as financial counseling.  

The Chicago Transit Authority expects to receive more than $292 million in federal money for capital improvement projects, including upgrades to the O’Hare Blue Line, purchasing or repairing rail cars and buses, and the purchase and installation of a security system in CTA facilities and vehicles.   

The Chicago Park District doesn’t detail its federal funding by year, but its 2017 budget says the agency expects nearly $4 million in federal grants to help pay for capital improvement projects in the five years ending in 2021.