April 14 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump's attempt to block federal funding to so-called "sanctuary cities" in the United States met with some skepticism in federal court Friday, indicating that the president may encounter yet more legal trouble getting one of his executive orders into play.
U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick in the Northern District of California began hearing arguments in a federal lawsuit aimed at blocking Trump's plan to punish U.S. municipalities that refuse to participate in certain deportation scenarios.
The order, which Trump signed five days after he took office in January, threatens to cut off some federal funding unless certain cities and counties begin acting on detainer orders from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The City of San Francisco and nearby Santa Clara County filed the lawsuit to block implementation of the president's order nationwide -- similar to what multiple jurisdictions have done to Trump's efforts to bar U.S. entry for all refugees worldwide and immigrants from six mostly Muslim countries.
The city and county argue that they would be harmed by Trump's order, and Orrick agreed. As such, the judge said Friday, the Northern California municipalities have the right to try and block the order in federal court.
There are hundreds of so-called "sanctuary" municipalities in the United States -- including major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City -- and many have actual written policies against complying with ICE detainers. Those areas do, however, cooperate with federal authorities when immigrants are the subject of criminal warrants.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents issue a detainer when an undocumented immigrant is identified through an unlawful action, such as the commission of a crime. ICE then asks local authorities to detain the migrant, sometimes beyond their scheduled release date, so deportation proceedings can begin. The crux of opponents' arguments is that the orders bring about a number of unintended consequences that cause harm to the cities and counties in which they reside.
Opponents to the president's order argue it could amount to billions of withheld dollars every year to municipalities across the United States -- money that would have gone to support things like healthcare, food and other necessities for the poor.
The president's order is part of his planned overhaul of U.S. immigration policy. Since taking office, Trump has issued orders to build a large barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, expand the Department of Homeland Security's authority to identify and deport undocumented aliens, and prohibit refugees and migrants from entering the United States.
Trump, though, has encountered substantial resistance to all three ideas from virtually all Democrats and some members of his own party. Last week, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said it's "unlikely" that a wall will be built along the entire 2,000-mile southern border -- and two of the president's executive orders to suspend immigration have been shut down in federal court.
Trump has repeatedly said all of his orders are rooted in national security and public safety interests. Opponents counter that they are merely thinly-veiled attempts to make good on discriminatory campaign promises.
In court Friday, Orrick said he will weigh the order's language as well as statements from the administration in recent weeks and months -- which include repeated criticisms of "sanctuary" governments from Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"Some mayors and city councils, and even a police chief and a sheriff here and there, are refusing to work with the federal government, choosing instead to protect the criminal aliens who harm public safety," Sessions said in Arizona this week. "For the sake of your communities, families, and children, work with us."
Asst. Attorney General Chad Readler told Orrick Friday the DHS and Department of Justice would only withhold certain law enforcement grants to the cities and counties that don't comply -- perhaps an indication the order is more symbolic than a real threat.
"The government argument boils down to the hope that President Trump and Attorney General Sessions won't do what they are saying they are going to do with this executive order," attorney John W. Keker, representing Santa Clara County, said.
"This unconstitutional order cannot be enforced, cannot be applied, cannot exist consistent with law. The president doesn't have the power to do it."
The order's broad language drew questions from Orrick on Friday about how the administration plans to implement and enforce it.
"We don't know yet exactly how the policy is going to be applied," Readler replied. "We don't know whether there will be any enforcement action and what it will look like."
Readler also repeated the government's view that Trump's order merely tries to enforce laws that are already on the books and threaten potential sanctions that were already in place before the new administration took office.
"What is this executive order about, then?" Orrick answered.
Other areas in California, including the City and County of Los Angles, and others in 12 states have supported an injunction by filing friend-of-the-court briefs in the case. A number of sheriffs, police officials and public school districts have also followed suit, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
Some opponents have said the administration is again taking the same path it did when it unsuccessfully tried to kill the Affordable Care Act -- that is, making frenzied efforts to scrap the works of former President Barack Obama without a firm plan to replace them.
Critics say Trump's blanket threat to withhold funding in-step with his immigration revamp is largely hollow, anyway, as the president cannot impose new restrictions on federal monies that have already been authorized by Congress.
California, which has led the charge against some of Trump's efforts, is currently considering the California Values Act -- a measure that would give the whole state "sanctuary" status by barring local agencies from sharing certain information with federal officials or detaining individuals on ICE orders.
It's unclear when Orrick, an Obama appointee, might issue a decision in the case, but the judge said it would be made as soon as possible. His siding with plaintiffs on certain arguments on Friday, though, might indicate that Trump's administration will also end up on the wrong end of this issue, as well.