The stance of defiance that sanctuary cities and jurisdictions have taken toward President Trump has hardened in recent weeks over the prospect that the administration will actually build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. In a new twist, some states and localities are threatening punishment for any business that seeks a contract for work on the wall.
A California state legislator has introduced a bill that would prohibit any business that performs work on the wall from doing any business with the state. In San Francisco, city supervisors have introduced legislation that would ban any companies that even bid for work on the wall from doing business with the city — even if the companies ultimately fail to win a contract for the wall.
In New York State, the legislature is considering a bill that would ban companies from receiving any state work if they do any work on the wall. Similar moves are under way in New York City, in Rhode Island, and other places.
It's having an effect. CNN recently reported that "several companies who otherwise possess the resources and experience to manage and deliver such a large and complex project are staying away from it largely due to concerns about political backlash." Dave Raymond, president of the American Council on Engineering Companies, told CNN, "In my lifetime, I can't think of a similar experience."
All this has caught the attention of Republicans in Congress who want to see the Trump administration go forward with the wall. This week, two GOP senators, Luther Strange of Alabama and David Perdue of Georgia, introduced a bill that would cut funding under two massive federal infrastructure and transportation programs to any jurisdictions "that refuse to cooperate with the federal government on immigration matters or retaliate against border security contractors." Strange and Perdue propose to take the money that would have gone to sanctuary jurisdictions and use it to help pay for the wall.
The two programs are the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) program, which has handed out more than $5 billion since its inception in the Obama administration, and the recently-created FASTLANE (Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies) program, which is slated to make more than $4.5 billion in grants in the next three years.
The idea of withholding federal infrastructure and transportation grants from sanctuary jurisdictions is an expansion on Attorney General Jeff Sessions' threat to withhold Justice Department grants to those who defy the law. But the bill's inclusion of sanctuary jurisdictions that threaten companies with retaliation is a new twist — as is the idea of using withheld federal funds toward the construction of the wall.
In an interview Tuesday, Strange said the idea came during a discussion with Sessions, his predecessor as senator from Alabama.
"The gist of our bill is, look, if you're in a jurisdiction and you pass an ordinance or piece of legislation that penalizes one of your own companies, small businessmen or women, from even bidding on helping to build the wall, pave a parking lot, whatever it is as part of that project, then we would give the federal government the option to take that grant money and re-allocate it to building the wall," Strange said.
"Sanctuary cities are threatening to penalize their own taxpaying local businesses if they submit plans to help enhance our border security with a wall," Perdue said in a statement. "Our nation is a nation of laws. Until these cities join the rest of us in following these laws, they have no business receiving federal grant funds."
Will it work? It's especially true on Capitol Hill that saying you want to do something is a long way from actually doing it. But some lawmakers, backed by the Trump administration — and vocally backed by the president himself — believe it's time to push back against cities and states that flout the law. That has become particularly urgent in light of the new contractor intimidation campaigns popping up around the country. As Strange and Perdue see things, it's worth a try.