Philly Sues U.S. AG Sessions Over Sanctuary Cities

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In an attempt to maintain trust between law enforcement officials and immigrant communities, the city of Philadelphia filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday morning against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has asked local authorities to work more closely with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The city hopes to prevent Sessions from imposing new and “unprecedented” requirements on the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (or JAG grant), which provided Philadelphia with $1.6 million last year to spend on police overtime, training, equipment, courtroom technology and other aspects of the criminal justice system.

“As you know, the city welcomed immigrants long before I was ever mayor,” Kenney said. “Immigrants are key to the success of Philadelphia.”

Sessions, at the behest of the Trump administration, announced new conditions in late July for any city or state receiving JAG grant money. They required municipalities to provide Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with 48-hour notice of any scheduled release of so-called prisoners of interest and allow ICE officials to interview inmates while in custody.

“As far as we can tell, these unprecedented grand conditions are purely political,” Kenney said. “The Trump administration claims that it is imposing these to keep Philadelphians safer, but the facts don’t lie. Philadelphia isn’t breaking federal law. We’re doing smart policing and, as a result, we had the lowest level of crime in 2016 that we’ve had in 40 years.”

The lawsuits contends that while JAG money goes through the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the grant was established by Congress to help local law enforcement fight crime. It cannot be changed or amended without authorization from Congress to expand immigration enforcement.

“We are therefore asking a court to intervene and to recognize that the Attorney General lacks the authority to impose any of these conditions,” city Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante said. “Fundamentally, the Attorney General cannot use this vital … funding as a way to coerce Philadelphia into implementing federal immigration policy.”

Similar lawsuits have been filed in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Both Kenney and Tulante expressed concerns that asking police to perform ICE duties would undermine an already fragile trust built between law enforcement officials and immigrant communities.

The mayor also signaled a willingness to help undocumented immigrants, especially children, impacted by Tropical Storm Harvey. Philadelphia offered assistance to people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2009 and could do so again.

“We have the capacity to do that and we have the heart to do that,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to help without being in the way.”

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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