Donald Trump’s new chief of staff has said the incoming President may try to withhold public funding from cities that have promised to protect immigrants.
Reince Priebus, who was appointed to the position last week, told CNN cities that “ignore federal law” should not expect “federal government to help them in any way”.
A number of mayors of major US cities have promised to protect immigrants from Mr Trump’s threats to deport them.
New York, Chicago, Seattle, New Jersey and Philadelphia, which together are home to around 15 million people, have vowed to become “sanctuary cities” and resist any attempts by Mr Trump to fulfil his campaign pledge to deport illegal immigrants and those with criminal convictions.
The mayor of Los Angeles stopped short of saying LA would be a "sanctuary city" but said the city's police force would not take part in arresting immigrants unless ordered to do so by a judge.
During the election campaign, Mr Trump promised to “end sanctuary cities” and withhold millions of dollars of taxpayer funding from jurisdictions that defied his wishes.
Mr Priebus confirmed this remained the President-elect's policy. He told CNN: "The idea that a city would decide to ignore federal law and then would want the federal government to help them anyway is an inconsistent position for those local governments to continue to engage in.
“Certainly I can't imagine that too many Americans are watching this and thinking that it's a good idea for a city to allow for blanket amnesty, ignoring federal law, and then say, 'Now give me $500 million'. No, that's not the way life works.
“A Trump administration is going to explore this issue and, I think, resolve some of these major problems that are happening all across the country."
The term “sanctuary cities” refers to those that do not cooperate with US Immigration and Customs enforcement – for example, by not notifying immigration officials if an illegal immigrant is about to be released from custody. Around 300 US jurisdictions are believed to currently have sanctuary status.
However, critics say the term is misleading because people can still be deported from these jurisdictions by federal authorities.
It is unclear whether Mr Trump would be able to legally block federal money to specific cities or states. US law states federal funding can only be withheld if a city or state refuses to do something directly related to the funding they are receiving.
For example, money earmarked for education or economic investment could not be withheld if a city refused to comply with immigration enforcement.
During the election campaign Mr Trump pledged to remove 11 million undocumented migrants from the US within the first two years of his presidency.
He said: “We have some bad hombres, and we’re going to get them out”.
The President-elect re-iterated the pledge after his victory against Hillary Clinton earlier this month, although with a significantly lower estimate of how many people will be deported.
He told CBS News his administration would focus on border security and deporting “probably two million [or] even three million” undocumented migrants with criminal convictions.
Estimates suggest there are currently 820,000 undocumented migrants in the US with criminal records – including many whose only criminal conviction is entering the country illegally.
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