Philadelphia hires law firms to sort through Sanctuary City policies

Two major law firms are helping the Kenney administration determine the implications of the push at the state and federal level to cut funding from Sanctuary Cities.

Dechert LLP will be working pro-bono for the city and Hogan Lovells will be paid no more than $25,000 in one year, City Solicitor Sozi Tulante told the city’s fiscal watchdog board PICA at its Tuesday meeting. There could be more work for those firms on the horizon.

“We wanted people who have the capacity to both do research but also to go to court if necessary,” Tulante said, following Tuesday’s meeting. Sanctuary Cities have been defined as municipalities that do not honor the requests of federal immigration officials to hold people accussed of  violating immigration law who are in local custody.

Tulante said the city’s 200 attorneys don’t have the capacity to do thorough research and analysis on the impact of President Trump’s executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to make Sanctuary Cities ineligible for almost all federal grants and the state’s pending legislation that would also pull state funding from cities like Philadelphia who don’t turn cooperate with immigration officials.

Mayor Kenney has been an advocate of immigrant rights and is opposed to turning over any undocumented immigrants to federal officials without a criminal warrant.

Tulante, however, said that the federal definition of sanctuary cities is different than what the mayor has been professing.

“What he understands as Sanctuary City is not the legal definition,” Tulante said of the Kenney’s view. “At the federal level, the definition of a sanctuary city is one that does not share… certain immigration information with federal officials. And our view is that we do share information.”

Tulante said that it is still not clear what the federal executive order means by sharing immigration information. It is “a question of when and how much,” information should be provided to the feds, Tulante said. That’s where the outside counsel will help.

As far as the loss of funding, Tulante and city finance director Rob Dubow told the PICA board Tuesday that they just don’t know yet. They said they don’t want to speculate on the amount of money that could be lost. Tulante said that if funding is cut, it would likely be in the public safety realm.

“We think as a matter of constitutional law, the funding that is most at risk legally is law enforcement funding,” Tulante said, adding that the order might allow some flexibility . “The executive order seems to give the Attorney General some discretion to allow funding to go forward to the extent is deemed necessary for law enforcement.”

The state bill is more aggressive.

Tulante said that the pending state legislation defines a Sanctuary City, or a “municipality of refuge”, as any city that releases individuals that are subject of an ICE detainer. In addition to losing state grants, any refuge city would be held liable for any harm, criminal or not, an undocumented immigrant released by that city would commit later in life to any other person.

“If someone was released notwithstanding an ICE detainer and that person injured someone… They are in an automobile accident 20 years from now in San Francisco, the city is liable for that,” Tulante said. “The fact that that person was released by the municipality subjects the municipality to liability. It’s unprecedented.”

Tulante said that city officials are talking to other cities in similar situations.

“Legally, the city is not without options,” he said.

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