Immigration Sanctuary Cities
0711_Kenney_ICE_Immigration Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Jim Kenney advocates for "sanctuary city" policies during a rally at LOVE Park in July 2015.

April 21, 2017

Justice Dept. tells Philly that law enforcement grant money at risk

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is forcing Philadelphia to show it is complying with an immigration law to continue receiving coveted law enforcement grant money.

The Justice Department's crackdown on nine so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities includes California, Chicago and New York.

The department sent letters Friday to places previously identified by its inspector general as having rules limiting the information that can be provided to federal immigration authorities.

Officials in those places must provide proof from an attorney that they are following the law.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia police said murders in the city are up 20 percent. After a significant decrease in 2013, murder rates have been on the rise since.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has increasingly warned that the administration will punish communities that refuse to cooperate with efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally.

In a statement Friday, the Justice Department said the recipients of its letters are "crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime."

After a raid led to the arrests of 11 MS-13 gang members in California's Bay Area "city officials seemed more concerned with reassuring illegal immigrants that the raid was unrelated to immigration than with warning other MS-13 members that they were next," the department said.

The federal law in question says state and local governments may not prohibit police or sheriffs from sharing information about a person's immigration status with federal authorities. Friday's letters warn officials they must provide proof from an attorney that they are following the law or risk losing thousands of dollars in federal grant money that police agencies use to pay for anything from body cameras to bulletproof vests.

The money could be withheld in the future, or terminated, if they fail to show proof, wrote Alan R. Hanson, acting head of the Office of Justice Programs, which administers the grant program, which is the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local communities.

Other targeted jurisdictions include Clark County, Nevada; Cook County, Illinois; Miami-Dade County, Florida; and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.

They were highlighted in a May 2016 report by the Justice Department's inspector general that found they have policies or rules that interfere with information-sharing among local law enforcement and immigration agents.

In Philadelphia, an executive order by Mayor Jim Kenney states, in part, that notice of the pending release of the subject of an ICE immigration detainer shall not be provided to ICE "unless such person is being released after conviction for a first or second degree felony involving violence and the detainer is supported by a judicial warrant."

The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, for example, has a policy to decline all requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep a suspected deportable immigrant in its custody long enough for immigration authorities to arrest the person unless that person is charged with certain violent crimes, according to the report.

It also pointed to a Milwaukee County rule that immigration detention requests be honored only if the person has been convicted of one felony or two misdemeanors, has been charged with domestic violence or drunken driving, is a gang member or is on a terrorist watch list, among other constraints.

The Obama administration warned cities after the report's release that they could miss out on grant money if they did not comply with the law, but it never actually withheld funds.

The grants in question are based on population and support an array of programs, technology and equipment for local law enforcement agencies, which can use the money at their discretion.

Sessions said earlier this week that sanctuary cities undermine efforts to fight violent gangs.