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Cuts To 'Sanctuary Cities' Could Affect Portland Housing Funds


Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler at a public inauguration ceremony on Jan. 4, 2017.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler at a public inauguration ceremony on Jan. 4, 2017.

Dave Blanchard/OPB

President Donald Trump fulfilled one of his campaign promises Wednesday, signing an executive order that would strip federal grant money from so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler responded with defiance.

“This for me is one of those issues that I’m willing to go all the way to defend,” he said. “I hope other people will start to realize, this isn’t just pretend any more, this isn’t just blustering on the part of this president. He really means to do this.”

Wheeler questioned the legality of the order, and urged Trump to reconsider it. He said the president is setting himself up for a legal battle with large American cities, including Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland.

Trump’s executive order conflicts with an Oregon state law, passed in the 1980s. It bans state police and local officers from using their resources to apprehend people if their only violation is being in the country illegally. Two Republican state lawmakers are currently seeking its repeal.

State legislators passed the law in 1987 after a series of immigration raids. 

“This does not preclude the federal government from coming into the community and enforcing federal regulations. If they want to do it and spend their own money and see it as a priority, they can do it,” Wheeler said.

Trump’s order directs the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of homeland security to hire an additional 10,000 immigration officers, a move that would require funding from Congress. It would also seek partnerships with state governments, authorizing state and local law enforcement to “perform the functions of immigration officers.”

Jurisdictions that do not comply “are not eligible to receive federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes,” according to the order.

The U.S. attorney general and secretary of homeland security would have the power to identify sanctuary jurisdictions.

Trump also directed the attorney general to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by immigrants, and to name any jurisdiction that refused to honor an immigration hold for a person who committed a crime.

Portland’s Office of Management and Finance has identified about $49 million in federal funding that could in theory be in jeopardy. Those are funds the city received in the last full fiscal year, 2015-2016.

The $49 million includes federal grants and state grants which may have been a pass-through for federal dollars.

That’s a comparatively small part of the city’s overall budget, but the loss could have a significant effect on Wheeler’s top priorities: building more affordable housing, supporting renters, and addressing homelessness.

The Portland Housing Bureau, in particular, relies more heavily on federal funding that other city bureaus. It received $12.6 million in direct federal grants in 2015-2016, according to city finance officials.

City bureaus also received grants from FEMA for storm response and from the Department of Justice for policing and law enforcement.

It’s not clear whether Trump’s order would target all federal grants to sanctuary cities, or just those administered by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

Andrew Scott, director of Portland’s independent budget office, said it’s hard to assess the risk the order poses to the city’s budget.

“Could he put a restriction on a housing grant for our immigration policy, for example?” he said. “I think the real questions are going to be the legal ones.” 

Funding to Multnomah County, which provides aid to low income households, seniors, and people with disabilities in Portland, could also potentially be at risk. The county commission formally declared it a “sanctuary county” last year.

Multnomah County receives $25 million in federal funding aimed at ending homelessness, and about $60 million in other federal grants.

At a press conference Wednesday, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Sheriff Mike Reese reiterated their commitment not to hold people solely on the basis of a federal immigration detainer.

“The Board and Sheriff remain committed to using local resources for local priorities,” said spokeswoman Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.

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