Byko: How this sanctuary city might escape funding cuts

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File: Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke announces a job creation plan in City Hall. At left is Mayor Kenney.

President Trump’s threat to cut funding to sanctuary cities  has exposed daylight between Mayor Kenney and Council President Darrell Clarke.

Under the executive order signed by Kenney immediately after taking office, Philadelphia bars almost all cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. One indisputable effect of the order: Philadelphia releases jailed convicted foreign felons back into the community, creating unnecessary risk.

One local example is Ramon Aguirre-Ochoa. Deported in 2009, the undocumented Honduran returned to Philadelphia and in 2015 was held on charges of domesticated aggravated assault. Ignoring an ICE detainer request, Philadelphia police released him. After he was turned loose, he was arrested last July, charged with raping a child.  

This is not an isolated case. The Migration Policy Institute, cited by Pew Research, estimates there are 1.9 million immigrants with criminal records among us. The liberal Boston Globe reported in 2015 “hundreds of immigrants convicted of sex crimes who should have been deported” were released instead.

Clarke seemingly suggested Thursday the city ought to rethink its policy. “The simple reality is we cannot lose federal and state funding,” Clarke told reporter Tricia L. Nadolny after Council’s weekly session.

I requested an interview with Clarke  and received a press release late Friday afternoon in which he said his remarks had been distorted. Clarke said he supports "municipal policies that welcome and protect law-abiding immigrants, regardless of documented status." The problem is the current policy shields even those convicted of felonies from ICE. 

According to Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt, “An attack on one Philadelphian is an attack on all of us. We must stand together in the face of hate.”

Attack? Hate? Federal immigration law is hateful? Alternative Fact? 

This is part of the inflammatory rhetoric of “threats” to “immigrants” when there is no threat to those here legally.  The enablers of the undocumented never use the “I-word” -- illegal. They pretend anyone who gets here by any means has a right to stay. They do not. Anyone here illegally is subject to deportation.

The language gets so insane that former Councilman Juan Ramos likened deportation to Nazi Germany, as if people were being sent to gas chambers instead of to their homes. As Socrates is said to have opined, “When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.”

As far back as 2010, President Obama chastised sanctuary cities, saying while we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws.  Former Mayor Rendell agreed and even the 2016 Democratic National Committee platform said people “should come to the United States with visas.” Lip service?

A 2015 Rasmussen Report poll revealed 62 percent of likely voters feel the Justice Department should go after sanctuary cities, with 58 percent wanting funding to be cut off.

The  pushback has been a long time coming, but now it is almost here.

The city’s general fund gets $30 million in federal aid, but tens of millions more flow to the city through grants directed to human services, police, housing and other agencies. It’s not clear how much could be cut, but whatever it is will hurt.

The state Senate is working on a bill to cut funding to sanctuary cities and state Rep. Martina White will reintroduce her bill to allow the city to be sued for personal injury or property damage caused by someone here illegally.

Clarke has called for a hearing on the potential financial impact on the city. 

There is an escape valve, if the politicians choose to use it. 

Before Mayor Nutter was buffaloed into curtailing cooperation with ICE, a fair compromise had evolved over the years.

The city would notify ICE of the arrest of an undocumented person, which was a simple email or phone call, not turning cops into federal agents. Philly would not, however, share with ICE the names of victims and witnesses. That policy addressed the concerns of Kenney and others that those “in the shadows” would be afraid to come forward to report crime.

They  had  that protection before Nutter went crazy in 2014 and banned all cooperation.

However, weeks before he left office in December 2015, Nutter softened the order, saying he was fulfilling a recent promise to Obama.

Former Mayor Nutter agreed to the compromise  with the Obama administration, "while his successor did not," said Clarke in a slap at Kenney.  And when Kenney made his decision, Council "was not in the room," said Clarke.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had praised Nutter's move, saying it would “prevent dangerous, removable criminals from being released to the streets.”

His words, not mine.

When Kenney restored the order, that made it possible for those removable criminals to again be released to the streets. My words.

It is a soft-headed, dangerous policy to release foreign felons and put the innocent at risk.

If it takes the “money weapon” to force Philadelphia to comply, I’m for it. Common sense and the law haven’t worked.