Glistening with sweat at a LOVE Park rally Wednesday organized by a coalition of immigrant advocates, Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney said he would forgo an estimated $5 million to $6 million in federal funds for Philadelphia rather than adopt a law enforcement policy he believes violates immigrants' civil rights.
"Money is important," he said. "But it's not worth violating the Constitution. You can't pay me to violate the Constitution."
Pushing back against legislation that would withhold federal funds from "sanctuary cities," including Philadelphia, Kenney, several local officials, and members of the Philadelphia Family Unity Network coalition denounced the movement in Congress to dock funding from the 22 cities that restrict local police cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In April 2014, the Nutter administration enacted a policy that requires ICE to obtain a judicial warrant, along with a detainer request, for any prisoner in city custody who would otherwise be released.
"If [they] have a warrant, we hold them. If they don't feel it necessary to get one, we can't hold somebody against their will according to the Constitution," Kenney told the group of about two dozen.
Lobbing a pun at Republican presidential contender Donald Trump's recent remarks calling immigrants who arrive illegally from Mexico "killers" and "rapists," Kenney said: "As far as I know, the Constitution trumps, trumps, ICE and any of [its] regulations and requests."
The congressional attack on sanctuary cities was revived this month against the backdrop of the July 1 slaying of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle, a San Francisco woman. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an immigrant man who had been deported five times, is in custody for her shooting.
The legislation withholding federal funds passed the House Thursday by a vote of 241-179. Similar legislation awaits action in the Senate. President Obama has said he will veto any such bill that comes to his desk.
Chiding federal lawmakers, Kenney said: "I wish that the U.S. Congress would be as animated and as energetic about gun violence and education as they are about holding immigrants without a warrant."
In a statement released after the rally, Republican mayoral nominee Melissa Murray Bailey said: "On issues of safety, I feel Philadelphia must act with common sense and cooperate with the federal government to make sure our streets are safe for everyone. To Jim Kenney I ask, 'Why do you feel the City of Philadelphia should put the safety of our children and fellow citizens in jeopardy by ignoring federal authorities and releasing potentially dangerous criminals back onto the street?' "