No matter what, officials say, sanctuary city funding restrictions hurt Philly

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the U.S. Attorney's office in Philadelphia on Friday, July 21, 2017.

A day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new restrictions on Department of Justice grants aimed at pulling funds from sanctuary cities, Philadelphia officials said the rules will “worsen public safety” here, whether they decide to comply with them or not.

“If we forgo the funding, our law enforcement will lose valuable resources they have relied on for years,” Mayor Kenney’s spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said in a statement. “If we comply, it is very unlikely that immigrants who are victims or witnesses to crimes will report that to police, and, consequently, the real bad guys will stay on the streets.”

The grants at stake have funded police overtime and training here — the city’s 2016 grant totaled $1.67 million. Last year, the Department of Justice stipulated that cities, to keep the grant, have to comply with a federal law that bans any local measures prohibiting communication with Immigration and Customs Enforcement about residents’ immigration status. The city has argued it does.

The new policy, announced this week, says cities must also allow Homeland Security officials access to detention facilities to interview immigrants held there, and give 48 hours’ notice to the Department of Homeland Security before they release an undocumented immigrant from custody. Sessions said the new rules were what Americans deserve from their local governments, and called sanctuary cities unsafe.

Philadelphia bans police officers from asking anyone about their immigration status, and when officers inadvertently learn of someone’s status, it is only entered into a police report if that person is suspected of a crime. The city also does not honor Immigrations and Customs Enforcement requests to detain undocumented inmates past their release dates — unless ICE produces a criminal warrant. Officials were heartened, Hitt said, to see the new restrictions did not mention detainer requests.

In her statement, Hitt questioned the Trump administration’s authority to change the conditions on policing grants “when no other administration has ever done so before.” She said the city is “still evaluating” whether Philadelphia will comply with thec conditions.