AG Sessions Cancels Trip to Philly to Talk Sanctuary Cities

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions planned to make a speech Thursday in Philadelphia about sanctuary cities, but the trip was canceled Wednesday.

No reason was given for the cancellation of an appearance in one of the most high-profile sanctuary cities in the country, and no new date was immediately announced.

Sessions was to address “federal, state and local law enforcement partners about sanctuary cities and efforts to combat violent crime.” He was to appear at the office of the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania on Chestnut Street in Center City.

The attorney general and Philadelphia officials have been at odds over immigration enforcement since President Donald Trump took office in January. Philadelphia has been a sanctuary city since Mayor Jim Kenney began his term, though last year the city began calling itself a “Fourth Amendment city” in an effort to highlight constitutional rights protecting due process and probable cause.

Under the Trump administration, federal law enforcement agencies, notably Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have asked for increased help from local agencies in detaining undocumented immigrants who have been arrested.

Philadelphia and many other municipal and county law enforcement agencies have refused to follow ICE’s request to hold undocumented immigrants until federal agents can meet with the arrested individuals, which have become known as “ICE detainers.”

Twice since January, Sessions has publicly demanded local agencies follow federal guidance. In March, the attorney general said Philadelphia and others risked losing Department of Justice grant money if they remained out of compliance.

“I’m urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws. Moreover, the Department of Justice will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants certify compliance as a condition of receiving those rewards,” Sessions said. “Failure to remedy violations could result in withholding grants, termination of grants, and disbarment or ineligibility for future grants. The Department of Justice will also take all lawful steps to claw back any funds awarded.”

He did not give a deadline for compliance at that time.

The DOJ gave $26 million in grants to Philadelphia in the 2015 fiscal year, which a city spokeswoman said was the most recent year in which a comprehensive total is available.

In April, the DOJ sent a letter to Philadelphia and at least nine other local and state governments warning again about failure to comply with federal guidelines for detaining undocumented immigrants arrested.

The letter stated that Philadelphia is required to cooperate under 1373 as per its grant agreement with the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, which is one of the federal government’s largest funding sources for local law enforcement.

In both instances, a spokeswoman for Kenney refuted the DOJ’s underlying motive for pushing local agencies to honor ICE detainers.

“The Attorney General’s comments today are a direct attack on public safety,” Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said in March. “He is threatening to take away money from the police department for what amounts to nothing more than good police work. Undocumented residents and their family members are much less likely to call law enforcement when they are a witness to or a victim of a crime if they know that the police will turn them in to ICE. And if residents can’t call the police, then it is extremely difficult to get criminals off the street. If we are forced to change Philadelphia’s policy on this, all of our residents will be less safe.”

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