As Kenney defends sanctuary city policy, Clarke calls for flexibility

City Council President Darrell Clarke suggested Thursday that the city should rethink its status as a sanctuary city, despite Mayor Kenney’s pledge to stand firm in the face of the potential loss of federal funding.

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke suggested Thursday that Philadelphia should rethink its status as a "sanctuary city," despite Mayor Kenney’s pledge to stand firm in the face of a potential loss of federal funding.

“While I believe in individuals' rights regardless of their citizenry, the simple reality is we cannot lose federal and state funding,” Clarke said after Council’s weekly meeting.

In response, Kenney's spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, noted that Council in September passed a resolution commending Kenney for upholding the policy. Clarke was one of the sponsors. 

"We cannot waver on that belief now just because things are more difficult," Hitt said. "An attack on one Philadelphian is an attack on all of us. We must stand together in the face of hate."

President Trump last week signed an executive order threatening to withhold federal funding from jurisdictions that do not fully cooperate with efforts by federal immigration officers to detain or deport undocumented immigrants. The order did not specify which funds to withdraw, and Kenney in turn said he saw no reason to change the city’s policy, which bars almost all cooperation between local and federal immigration officials.

Clarke has responded to Trump’s order with concern. Last week he called for Council to hold a hearing on the potential financial impact on the city, adding that he was also concerned about cuts from Harrisburg. The state Senate is considering a bill that would target state funding to cities with sanctuary policies.

Clarke, who rarely shows his cards until the last possible moment, did not detail Thursday how he thinks the city’s policy should change. But he said his office was looking at compromises on the policy discussed during the Obama administration. In December 2015, shortly before he left office, Mayor Michael A. Nutter changed the policy to allow more cooperation between local and federal authorities on immigration matters, changes Kenney quickly undid when he took office.

“There has been some discussion about some compromises during the Obama administration,” Clarke said. “We’re looking into that. It’s an ongoing saga.”

He also expressed frustration that Council has not been consulted on the policy and called for the conversation to be “broadened beyond just the executive branch.” Hitt in response said Council first held a hearing on the city's working relationship with federal immigration officials and whether the practice of sharing information should be terminated in 2014.