McGinty calls for 'sanctuary city' changes as Toomey bill looms

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Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty and incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

With a U.S. Senate vote looming Wednesday to strip Philadelphia and other municipalities of millions in federal grant funding, Democrat Katie McGinty has called on Mayor Kenney to alter his "sanctuary city" policy.

Philadelphia, which is receiving nearly $39 million in Community Development Block Grants this year, could see that funding put at risk due to legislation being pushed by Sen. Pat Toomey to punish sanctuary cities.

Toomey, a Lehigh County Republican, has made the controversial immigration issue a centerpiece of his bid for a second term against McGinty, the Democratic nominee.

McGinty, in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, said she had asked Kenney to rethink his policy.

That request came in a letter McGinty sent Kenney on Tuesday.

As one of his first acts in office in January, Kenney reinstituted the city policy that bars police and prison officials from telling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents about the pending releases from detention of undocumented prisoners, unless a prisoner was previously convicted of a violent felony and ICE has a warrant.

McGinty on Tuesday called for increased communications between local police and federal law enforcement agencies.

Pressed for an opinion on Kenney's policy, McGinty said she was not "rejecting" it but wanted the city to share information with federal officials on pending releases of inmates.

"I have asked for reconsideration of this aspect of the policy," McGinty told reporters. "I think we are all safer and better off when law enforcement is in constant contact about individuals that they have concerns about."

Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Kenney, said he "has no intention of reversing his position" on the sanctuary-city policy.

Hitt said Kenney - a Democrat like McGinty - supports continuing discussions with federal officials and immigration advocates about how that policy is carried out.

Jeh Johnson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, met with immigration advocates in a City Hall "summit" on the issue hosted by Kenney's administration in May.

Kenney, in a statement released Tuesday, described Toomey's legislation as "pulled straight from Donald Trump's anti-immigrant playbook." Kenney also noted that the city already cooperates with federal officials on cases involving suspected terrorism or when prisoners are charged with a federal crime or were previously convicted of a violent crime.

McGinty has defended attempts by municipal leaders to set their own priorities for law enforcement agencies in immigration matters.

McGinty, in her letter to Kenney, cited testimony Thursday from Johnson to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Johnson told the committee he has spoken with Philadelphia officials "without success so far" about the issue.

McGinty wrote that she found that "concerning." She urged Kenney to hold a meeting with local and federal officials and community members.

She also knocked Toomey in the letter for his legislation, calling his record on immigration issues "particularly troubling."

Toomey's bill would block sanctuary cities from receiving federal Community Development Block Grants, budgeted for $3 billion in 2016.

Philadelphia is set to receive $38.8 million in Community Development Block Grants, part of $169.6 million for all Pennsylvania municipalities.

Toomey, in a speech on the Senate floor last week, argued that it was justifiable to withhold federal funding because sanctuary cities impose additional costs on federal law enforcement agencies. He again cited the 2015 killing of a woman in San Francisco after the accused murderer was released after being picked up on an old drug warrant, despite a federal request to hold him for deportation.

"If you're going to impose those costs, then it's very reasonable for the federal government to choose not to subsidize that," Toomey said.

brennac@phillynews.com

215-854-5973 @ByChrisBrennan