Federal dollars at risk over Arcata’s possible sanctuary city status

Four-fifths of the Arcata City Council pledges allegiance to the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands at last Wednesday's council meeting. KLH | Union

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

ARCATA – One of the main issues the Arcata City Council will take up in its discussion of sanctuary city status boils down to dollars and cents: whether to put Arcata’s federal aid at risk.

Nearly $860,500 in the current budget comes directly from federal agency grant funds, specifically U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Assembling figures requested by the Union, City Manager Karen Diemer said late last week that Arcata also has several grants awarded through state agencies. An indeterminate portion of those could have originated from federal appropriations that are then disbursed through the state.

Diemer said it is difficult to calculate the exact amount of Arcata’s annual federal aid because, to some extent, the state’s intermediary role can make it hard to figure out which are state dollars and which are federal.

“We have brainstormed a list of historic federally funded programs,” she said in an email. “It is hard to know how funds will be viewed” because so many of the grants funnel through a state agency.

Whatever the precise amount of federal funding, the City Council’s consideration of sanctuary status will be shadowed by President Trump’s open threat to halt federal dollars to states and cities that declare themselves sanctuaries from the prosecution of unauthorized immigrants who are deemed to be in violation of U.S. immigration statutes.

Vice-Mayor Sofia Pereira questions whether the president could legally strip federal funds, either from the state or from sanctuary cities, as do Mayor Susan Ornelas and Councilmember Michael Winkler.

“When this comes before us as a council, we will receive a staff report that indicates possible risks,” Pereira said in an email. “At this point, there is plenty of case law that shows the federal government wouldn’t be able to punitively withhold funds, [as] is being proposed by the administration.”

Police Chief Tom Chapman said the city and his department could be at risk of losing federal dollars, “but to what degree and what impact that would have on city services, I do not know.”

Sanctuary status would not alter Arcata Police’s enforcement operations, he said, pointing out that the designation “sanctuary” carries a variety of definitions and scopes.

“So it would depend on what the council ultimately decided. For example, an ordinance prohibiting any and all enforcement potentially protects people. However, the reality is we rarely, if ever, have a reason to enforce immigration laws, so nothing would change in terms of [the] Arcata Police.”

The uncertainty about the legal definition of “sanctuary” is such that Trump’s newly appointed Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly, told law enforcement officials on a tour last Friday of the nation’s border with Mexico, “I don’t have a clue” what it means, the Associated Press reported.

The Feb. 11 Associated Press dispatch quoted the retired four star general as saying it would be difficult to justify immigration enforcement grants to cities that refuse to cooperate. He promised, however, that there are no “draconian moves” in store from his department.

Although there is expressed willingness among City Council members to give sanctuary status a thorough hearing, Winkler has staked out his opposition in advance. As a practical matter, he says, immigrants would be no safer if the council adopted the measure.

He wrote to a constituent early this month stating, “I do not support a declaration of Arcata as a ‘sanctuary city.’ It paints a big red target on our backs for the Trump administration to easily identify Arcata and doesn’t provide any additional protection for immigrants whose only violation is of immigration law.”

Winkler shared the full text of the letter with the Union, in which he noted, “We on the council recently unanimously approved our declaration of constitutional and other human rights, something I strongly support.”

He went on to say that he backs clarifying city policy with respect to cooperating with the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services). “I do not support turning an immigrant over to the INS if their only legal violation is violation of immigration laws.”

Winkler expanded, “I also support the City of Arcata participating as a friend of the court (amicus curiae) with other cities, the State of California and other states in legal challenges [to] the legality and constitutionality of Trump administration attempts to compel cooperation with the INS under penalty of withholding of federal grant money.”



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