Mayor Bill de Blasio is vowing to fight President Trump's executive order Wednesday blocking federal grants to so-called sanctuary cities that protects undocumented immigrants from authorities, while more than a thousand New Yorkers rally in Washington Square Park.
"The executive order does not change who we are or how we go about doing our work," de Blasio said at a news conference Wednesday evening.
"We're going to defend all of our people, regardless of where they come from and regardless of their documentation status," he said.
The Democratic mayor says that instead of filling its stated purpose of increasing public safety, the executive order would undermine it by damaging police and community relations, and putting cuts first and foremost on the NYPD, "taking away the resources we use everyday to protect people in this city against crime and against terrorism."
City officials say the Republican president's order could yank over $150 million in law enforcement funding that's mainly for counterterrorism efforts, as well as protecting international dignitaries and, arguably, safeguarding Trump Tower.
De Blasio also cast doubt on the legal sustainability of the executive order, saying "there is less here than meets the eye."
"The executive order is written in a very vague fashion," he said. "We believe that not only will it be susceptible to many legal challenges but that it will meet with tremendous public resistance all over the nation."
"We believe we are on solid ground to challenge the executive order should the occasion rise and be necessary," he added, referencing a 2012 Supreme Court ruling in which the court prohibited the federal government from the "broad-brush withholding of funds" to states.
Earlier, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said of Trump's executive order, "We're going to strip federal grant money from the sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants. The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize this disregard for our laws."
But de Blasio vowed Wednesday, "We will not deport law-abiding New Yorkers, we will not tear families apart, we will not leave children without their parents, we will not take breadwinners away from families who have no one else. And we're not going to undermine the hard-won trust that has developed between our police and their communities."
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More than half a million New Yorkers are undocumented immigrants.
"This is a city of immigrants, we always have been. That is our fundamental nature," said de Blasio.
"The spirit of this executive order runs contrary to our character and our values as a city, and I would argue it runs contrary to our character and our values as a country," he said.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday that "local governments seeking to protect their immigrant communities from federal overreach have every right to do so," and that he would fight Trump's executive order.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said the executive order does "nothing to keep us safe or fix our immigration system in a humane, pragmatic and effective way."
And Congressman Adriano Espaillat said as "once an undocumented immigrant," he supported common sense reform, and that he would challenge Trump on anti-immigration policies.
Meanwhile, several civil rights groups were participating in the rally at Washington Square Park Wednesday night.
Protesters chanted "Resist" and "No ban, no wall, this is our New York" as they stood in Washington Square Park on Wednesday night, listening to elected officials, advocates and other speakers. People carried signs saying "I stand with immigrant New York" and "Here to stay."
"New Yorkers will not be silent. We will not stand by and let this happen. We will stand up and be heard," Albert Cahn of the Council of Islamic-American Relations said to a cheering crowd.
For many, it was personal.
"I have my mother at home, and she's an immigrant, and I have friends that have mothers who are immigrants, so I'm here to basically stand up for them," said Jonath Bourdier of upper Manhattan.
Cesar Vergas of Staten Island, who moved to U.S. at 5 years old, is undocumented.
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"It could mean that I could be subject to deportation, it could mean I could lose my law license," he said.
Mayors and officials in other cities across the U.S. echoed de Blasio's statements Wednesday, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
There's no formal definition of a "sanctuary city." The term generally refers to cities that don't fully cooperate with immigration authorities, sometimes by declining requests from immigration officials to hold onto potential deportees who would otherwise be released from jail.
New York, for example, doesn't honor such detainment requests unless there's a federal warrant and the person requested may be on the terrorist watch list or committed a serious crime in the past five years. About 170 crimes qualify, de Blasio said.
The city didn't immediately have information on how many people have been held and turned over in the last few years.