CINCINNATI -- President Donald Trump's administration on Wednesday reiterated its clear-cut threat to withhold federal funding from so-called "sanctuary cities."
What's less clear cut is if Cincinnati fits into that category.
Just a few days into his term, Trump signed an executive order that would strip federal grants from "sanctuary jurisdictions" -- the term used in the order -- that choose not to turn over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.
Asked about Cincinnati -- which symbolically declared itself a "sanctuary city" last week but announced no policy changes -- White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeated the threat.
"The president's going to do everything he can within the scope of the executive order to make sure that cities who don't comply with it, counties and other institutions that remain sanctuary cities don't get federal government funding in compliance with the executive order," he said Wednesday.
Spicer added: "I think more areas, like Miami-Dade down in Florida, understand the importance of this order, and we hope cities like Cincinnati and other communities around the country follow their lead and comply with that."
He didn't make clear what "lead" he thinks Cincinnati should follow, since the Miami-Dade County government changed its policy to be more in line with what Cincinnati and Hamilton County have already been doing.
Until late January, Miami-Dade jails wouldn't honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to indefinitely hold undocumented immigrants. Those federal detainer requests are often at the heart of the debate over what constitutes a "sanctuary" community.
Miami-Dade's position wasn't a moral stance; instead, officials argued the federal government doesn't foot enough of the bill for keeping undocumented immigrants locked up. After Trump's threat to withhold federal funds, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez reversed course, saying the community stood to lose far more money than it costs to hold the inmates.
That's not the situation here. The Hamilton County jail, where Cincinnati police take suspects for booking, has honored federal detainer requests in the past and will continue to do so, Sheriff Jim Neil said.
And the city's police department has a policy expressly telling officers to cooperate with federal immigration agents, though they're also told not to target or arrest people simply because they might be undocumented. Cincinnati police spokesman Lt. Steve Saunders said there are no plans to change that.
"Given that Mr. Spicer said that only cities that violate federal law will lose federal funds, and the City of Cincinnati has not and will not violate federal laws, the City is not in jeopardy of losing federal funds," Mayor John Cranley said in a statement.
Being a sanctuary city is not a violation of federal law, City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething wrote in a legal opinion released Wednesday.
"The Cincinnati Police Department has been lauded time and time again by the Justice Department for excellence in policing and, though we have a great working relationship with our federal partners, it is their responsibility and not ours to enforce federal laws, including immigration," Boggs Muething wrote.
Cranley, who proclaimed Cincinnati has been a "sanctuary city" for years, has argued a state proposal to punish "sanctuary cities" could violate officials' free speech rights to disagree with the president.
WCPO legal expert Mark Krumbein also cited the First Amendment, saying Cincinnati symbolically calling itself a "sanctuary city" was no different than it taking the name "the Queen City."
Here are Spicer's full remarks:
"As I have noted before, the end of the day, this order is about two things: one, keeping our cities safe, and two, respecting the hard-earned taxpayers who send their money to the federal government.
"The president's going to do everything he can within the scope of the executive order to make sure that cities who don't comply with it, counties and other institutions that remain sanctuary cities don't get federal government funding in compliance with the executive order.
"I think more areas, like Miami-Dade down in Florida, understand the importance of this order, and we hope cities like Cincinnati and other communities around the country follow their lead and comply with that."