A top legal expert says Vermont’s proposed enforcement of “Fair and Impartial Policing” policies would qualify the state as a sanctuary jurisdiction.
“It’s not ambiguous,” said Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “If [the state] passes an ordinance saying police may not notify the federal government of immigration status, that is in clear violation of [federal law].”
Because the policy prohibits local law enforcement from asking a suspect’s immigration status and sharing that information with the federal government, H.492 puts Vermont’s federal funding at risk. Both President Trump and the Republican-led Congress have promised to cut funding for sanctuary jurisdictions.
Von Spakovsky’s view is especially important because the Heritage Foundation has proven to be an influential think tank for the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has multiple Heritage employees working for his administration, including Paul Winfree, White House director of budget policy, who will draft the administration’s first budget.
Winfree previously authored Heritage’s Budget Blueprint, which, along with the Blueprint for a New Administration and Blueprint for Reform, has been followed nearly point by point by the new president.
According to Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of OpenTheBooks.com, an organization that tracks federal funding to sanctuary jurisdictions, Montpelier, Winooski and Burlington are the only Vermont cities that qualify as sanctuary jurisdictions. In 2016, these cities received a total of about $142 million in federal funds. While a range of federal funds are at risk, Andrzejewski says funds for law enforcement and public safety are most in danger from Vermont sanctuary policies.
“There seems to be universal acceptance that Department of Justice grants to local law enforcement can be cut,” Andrzejewski said.
The Depatment of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice give funds to states through discretionary grant programs allocated for community security. In 2016, Vermont received almost $4 million from DHS and over $16 million from DOJ grants. Montpelier, Winooski and Burlington received $648,765 through these grant programs.
That money can disappear, according to von Spakovsky. “It’s not mandatory. Not everyone gets money,” he said.
However, Andrzejewski notes that the “ultimate arbiter of the presidential and congressional power of the purse will be the courts.” He estimates that $27 billion in federal funds to sanctuary jurisdictions are at risk nationwide.
While the president’s critics say it is inappropriate to use federal funds to pressure states into compliance, the practice is common among past presidents, including President Barack Obama’s approach to transgender bathroom policies. President Richard Nixon tied federal highway funding to states’ compliance with speed limit laws, and similar tactics have been tried with the drinking age and helmet laws.
Von Spakovsky said that there is another option available to the federal government, although he said it is less likely than withholding funding: The U.S Attorney General could file civil lawsuits against offending jurisdictions.
“The judge could then hold lawmakers in contempt, resulting in a fine or jail time. It’s the same thing the federal government did to Southern towns in the 1960’s who refused to comply with civil rights orders,” he said.
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