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Trump wants to use coronavirus aid as leverage to force blue states to change immigration policies

The president mentioned using aid to force states into “sanctuary city adjustments” in comments to the press Tuesday.

Members of the activist group Rise and Resist at the World Trade Center in New York City.
Members of the activist group Rise and Resist during a silent protest against President Trump’s immigration policy at the World Trade Center in New York City on January 6.
Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

In an authoritarian twist, President Donald Trump signaled Tuesday that he’s looking to condition coronavirus economic relief for blue states on complying with the administration’s immigration policy goals.

In remarks to reporters at a White House event with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump said he’d be willing to give economic aid to Democratically controlled state governments, but he wants them to do something for him first — bend their sanctuary city policies to align with the administration’s desired policy.

Trump said he was only open to helping some states financially cover losses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think there’s a big difference with a state that lost money because of Covid and a state that’s been run very badly for 25 years,” he said.

He then mentioned sates with sanctuary city policies.

“We’d have to talk about things like sanctuary cities, as an example. I think sanctuary cities is something that has to be brought up where people who are criminals are protected, they are protected from prosecution,” he told reporters, despite sanctuary city policies having nothing to do with the pandemic. “I think that has to be done. I think it’s one of the problems that the states have. I don’t even think they know they have a problem, but they have a big problem with the sanctuary situation.”

Later in the day, Trump reiterated his sanctuary city comments while taking questions from reporters at an East Room event to promote the success of the Payroll Protection Program. “If it’s Covid-related, I guess we can talk about [aid], but we’d want certain things also, including sanctuary city adjustments,” he said.

The ACLU responded to Trump’s comments on Twitter Tuesday, saying, “We cannot allow the Trump administration to exploit a public health crisis to further their anti-immigrant agenda.”

Federal aid for states themselves has quickly become a divisive issue on Capitol Hill. Several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle condemned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) suggestion that states with massive Covid-19 related budget shortfalls should just declare bankruptcy.

The Trump administration’s ongoing war against sanctuary cities

Conservative lawmakers have made no bones about trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to their own political advantage. Several conservative states, like Texas, Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, along with a few others, tried to ban abortion care while their states were under shelter-at-home orders.

The Trump administration has not been an exception. The administration has used the economic upheaval produced by the pandemic to roll back regulations that it has long had in its crosshairs. It rolled back Obama-era automobile fuel economy requirements and eased enforcement of several EPA pollution regulations. It’s also considering undoing many small business regulations.

On immigration policy, the administration announced on April 23 that it would suspend immigration to the US, though it exempted many farmworkers from the rule.

It should come as no surprise then that Trump would try to leverage coronavirus relief toward pushing states to dump sanctuary city rules. The Trump administration has long battled against the policy, which it claims shelters undocumented immigrants from prosecution by US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and creates more criminal activity.

However, studies have shown that sanctuary city policies don’t actually result in higher-than-average crime, as explained by Vox’s Nicole Narea:

Sanctuary policies don’t appear to make a city more dangerous. While there isn’t a huge body of research on sanctuary policies’ impact on crime rates, studies have found that they either slightly decrease crime rates or have no effect.

A study published in the journal Urban Affairs Review in 2017 found that cities with similar characteristics but for their sanctuary policies had “no statistically discernible difference” in their rates of violent crime, rape, or property crime. Using data from the National Immigration Law Center and the FBI, researchers compared crime rates before and after cities passed sanctuary laws, finding that they had no effect on crime.

Though sanctuary city policies have nothing to do with the Covid-19 outbreak, Trump apparently views the crisis as an opportunity to force blues states to reshape their immigration policies in a manner favorable to his base. In that way, the quid pro quo he’s trying to set up is reminiscent of the dealings with Ukraine that resulted in his impeachment.

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