Cutoff of Federal Funds Likely to Face Legal Challenges

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SACRAMENTO — The state of California and local governments that defy new federal immigration initiatives face billions of dollars of federal cuts.

At least that is the fear of those who pledge to defy President Trump’s new immigration enforcement initiatives.

California receives a whopping $93 billion in federal funds. Much of that money is funneled to local governments.

But Pacific McGeorge Dean and Law School professor Clark Kelso says the new administration must tread carefully because courts have ruled that the federal government is limited when it comes to withholding money that is already earmarked.

For instance, money for education or transportation can’t be tampered with because unrelated issues like immigration are in dispute.

Local law enforcement gets millions of dollars in the form of federal grants, which may be a gray area when it comes to enforcing immigration laws. But while there are often rules on how to spend federal funds, using money to force certain actions is another.

“The federal government cannot coerce state and local governments by putting conditions on federal funding,” Kelso said.

It’s unlikely that federal funds could be cut off right away and would face court challenges if that were to occur. It could take several years if it goes to appellate courts.

Congress could revise funding rules which would also take time. But Kelso says the new administration has to weave its way around limitations on controlling funding.

“I think they can find themselves on the losing end in a federal court lawsuit,” Kelso said.

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