Trump threatens to cut funds from sanctuary cities; Berkeley could lose $11.5M

UC Berkeley students held a rally Dec. 9 to protest against threatened deportations. Photo: Anthony Bertolli

The city of Berkeley could lose up to $11.5 million in federal funds if President Donald Trump goes through with his promise to punish sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with immigration law.

Trump signed two executive orders on Wednesday dealing with immigration, including one to build a wall along the 2,000-mile-border between the U.S. and Mexico. Trump reiterated his promise that Mexico, not U.S. taxpayers, will pay for the wall even though the Mexican president has said his country will not pay a dime.

Trump also promised to speed up the deportation of undocumented immigrants and punish those who interfered with the efforts.

It’s unclear, however, just how bad the impact of the executive order will be for Berkeley and other sanctuary cities. The actual wording states that it is the policy of the executive branch to “ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law.” Which of Berkeley’s federal funds will qualify as “mandated by law” is an open question.


Berkeley officials have been expecting an action that might threaten the money the city gets from the federal government. On Nov. 22, then Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguín held a press conference to make clear that he and the City Council will ensure Berkeley remains a sanctuary city, offering protection to immigrants and undocumented residents. Numerous city and school district officials joined with him at the press conference and pledged their dedication to Berkeley’s sanctuary status.

On Wednesday, Arreguín sent out two tweets addressing the issue.

Late today, Arreguín issued a collective press release denouncing Trump’s actions with the mayors of Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose,

“Our values of human rights, equity, and inclusion have come under attack by the Trump Administration,” Arreguín said in the statement. “In just two days, Trump has pushed a divisive wall, stripped our citizens of civil liberties, and cut funding to cities that have the courage to stand up for all people – whether or not they are legal citizens. We will not be intimidated by threats to cut funding to cities that believe in the fundamental notion that no person is illegal. No amount of federal funding is worth betraying our values.”

Donald Evans, the superintendent of BUSD, sent out an email this afternoon reiterating the district’s committment to protecting students who are undocumented.


“Dear Berkeley Unified School District Families,

We want you to know that we are committed to protecting the right of every student to attend public school, regardless of immigration status of the student or of the student’s family members.

On December 7, 2016, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education adopted an official policy that provides protections to immigrant families and affirms the right of undocumented children to a public education. This right has also been upheld by the United States Supreme Court in a case called Plyler v. Doe.

On January 25, 2017, the Board will adopt a resolution that reiterates its position that all students have the right to attend our public schools, regardless of the immigration status or religious affiliation of the student or of the student’s family members.

Because it is our duty and responsibility to provide each child in our District with a high-quality public education in a safe and nurturing environment, we have given these directions to the staff at our schools:


Our staff will not request information or make a record of information on the immigration status of a student or family member. Furthermore, students and families will not be required to provide a social security number for school forms.

If the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency asks for access to a school or for access to student information, they will be politely denied and referred directly to the Superintendent or Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services who will refer the matter to the District’s legal counsel.

Anyone in our schools seeking answers to questions about immigration will be referred to local non-profit immigration law organizations, such as the East Bay Community Law Center and the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant or other recommended resources available on the district website.

Our immigrant families are not the only ones who are concerned about possible changes in federal policies. We want you to know that our district rejects all discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity and expression, immigration status, disability and sexual orientation.

The core values of our district continue to guide us through these times: Our students are our priority. We take pride in our diversity. We hold high expectations for ourselves and our students. We treat each other with respect and act with integrity.”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee also issued a statement: “Today’s directives also take the unprecedented step of targeting sanctuary cities. These cruel, counterproductive policies are designed to terrorize immigrant communities and bully local jurisdictions. My district is home to four proud sanctuary cities: Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda and Emeryville. I refuse to allow the Trump administration to intimidate my constituents. As a member of the Appropriations Committee I will fight tooth and nail to prevent funding for these misguided, anti-immigrant policies.”

In 2015, Berkeley got $11.5 million from various federal agencies, according to an analysis done by city staff. The bulk of that – $6.3 million – came from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Health and Welfare Department provided Berkeley with $2.9 million.

This are the funds that Berkeley may lose. Photo: City of Berkeley

Berkeley had expected to lose most of the HUD money anyway with the change of administration, said Stefan Elgstrand, an assistant to Arreguín. Trump is not particularly supportive of subsidizing low-income housing and has appointed Dr. Ben Carson, a doctor who grew up poor but who has no experience in housing issues, as the head of HUD.

Berkeley expects to make up some of the housing money because two housing initiatives, Measure A1 and U1, passed in November. Those measures will direct funds from a county bond measure and a new tax on rental profits into a housing fund.

Berkeley is one of more than 300 self-described sanctuary cities around the country. The City Council declared Berkeley to be a City of Refuge in 1971 and has had occasion to re-affirm that status several times since, including in 2007 during local raids by the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and in 2015 when the city said it would welcome Syrian refugees.

City officials do not know how many people have sought sanctuary in Berkeley.

“For the safety and privacy of those individuals, we do not keep track of that data,” Elgstrand wrote in an email.

Trump first brought up blocking funds for sanctuary cities at a rally in Phoenix in August where he spoke about his immigration plans. He said: “Block funding for sanctuary cities. We block the funding. No more funding… Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.”

This article has been updated to include the press release issued by four mayors, one by Rep. Barbara Lee, and the email sent by Superintendent Evans.