Knock, knock

HOLDING signs saying “Amnistia para Latinos!” and “My dreams are not illegal”, protesters gathered in a park on Chicago’s mostly Latino West Side on May 1st. Chris Kennedy, who is running for governor of Illinois next year, joined the crowd, as did Dick Durbin, a Democratic senator. Seeking to reassure his audience, Mr Durbin noted that a spending bill now in Congress stipulates “not one penny” for a new border wall, no new officers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which pursues illegal immigrants, and “no penalty for sanctuary cities like Chicago”.

Illegal immigrants and their defenders are both fearful and perplexed. In January Donald Trump signed an executive order for “enhancing public safety in the interior of the United States”. This threatens to pull federal funding from cities and counties that fail to help the federal government deport illegal immigrants. For a city like Chicago, which is beyond broke, that could spell disaster. But it is not at all clear how much money is at stake.

Police and mayors in some 300 cities and counties turned to sanctuary policies for pragmatic reasons. They fear that if officers alert immigration agents when undocumented migrants are booked into their cells—even for fingerprinting after being caught driving without a licence—then immigrants will cease contact with officials of all kinds. Opponents retort that sanctuary policies protect foreign criminals from deportation, and gleefully recount crimes committed by released immigrants.

Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor, and Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County board, insist they will stand firm. Illinois has introduced a bill restricting co-operation with federal immigration officials—as have California, Maryland, Nevada and New York. Yet in the past three months at least 33 mostly Republican states have introduced or passed laws requiring local police to comply with ICE requests to hold a soon-to-be-released inmate for a further 48 hours to work out whether he can be deported, according to Muzaffar Chishti at the Migration Policy Institute, a think-tank. Miami-Dade was one of the first to retreat, ditching its sanctuary policies in February. Texas has passed the toughest anti-sanctuary bill in the country (see next article).

When pleading the government’s case in April before William Orrick, a district judge in San Francisco, government lawyers argued that the order would affect only federal funds for policing. If so, the financial harm to cities like Chicago would be slight. Mr Chishti estimates that Cook County risks losing just $2m in federal funding, and all of California only $18m. If all federal funds are affected, the loss would be huge: the Better Government Association, a watchdog in Chicago, has estimated that the city alone would lose a whopping $3.6bn this year.

On April 25th Judge Orrick ruled that the president had overstepped his powers by tying federal funds to the enforcement of immigration law. Mr Trump will almost certainly appeal, and the case is likely to go to the Supreme Court. Mr Trump could win with the narrow interpretation of his order, which will make little difference to the finances of sanctuary cities.

Above the noise of grinding legal gears, though, there is a chorus of alarm from illegal immigrants and officials who deal with them. At a school in California’s Central Valley only 75 out of 200 pupils turned up the day after a recent ICE raid in the community, says Lena Graber at the Immigrant Legal Resource Centre. Their parents feared they would be next.