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July 21, 2015

Congressional Republicans target Philadelphia, other 'sanctuary cities'

Lawmakers seek legislation forcing sanctuary cities to comply with immigration requests

Congressional Republicans are taking aim at “sanctuary cities” like Philadelphia, where local law enforcement agencies refuse to adhere to federal immigration orders.

The House Appropriations Committee voted last week to block sanctuary cities from receiving Homeland Security grant funding for at least one year. The legislation, an amendment to a Homeland Security appropriations bill, is part of a wider, Republican-led effort to force sanctuary cities into complying with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests. To regain eligibility, the Homeland Security secretary must certify the municipality is no longer a sanctuary city.

If passed into law, Philadelphia could lose a revenue stream that has provided $6.1 million since 2008.

RELATED STORY: Homicide putting focus on 'sanctuary' cities like Philly

Congressman Chaka Fattah called the legislation a “press release amendment” that eventually will be dropped from the final passage of the Homeland Security appropriations bill.

“There’s no possibility that this is going to become law — none,” Fattah said. “The president is not going to sign a bill that would require cities to take the exact opposite position that the administration has.”

Sanctuary cities have fallen under fire after an undocumented immigrant with a felonious record allegedly killed a 32-year-old woman earlier this month in San Francisco. In such counties and cities, local law enforcement officials provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants by refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Mayor Michael Nutter designated Philadelphia as a sanctuary city in April 2014, a move that drew the applause of immigration advocates. Press secretary Mark McDonald declined to comment on the House Appropriations Committee vote. 

"Let's see what is finally enacted into law," McDonald wrote in an email.

Republicans, alongside a couple of California Democrats, are pushing legislation to force sanctuary cities to meet ICE requests.

One House bill bans sanctuary cities from receiving any federal funds for at least one year. Another, dubbed Kate's Law, requires a five-year minimum sentence for previously deported undocumented immigrants who unlawfully return to the United States.

In the Senate, an amendment to an appropriations bill would prohibit sanctuary cities from receiving federal immigration and law enforcement grants.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., called sanctuary cities an indefensible policy in an interview with Talk Radio 1210 WPHT host Chris Stigall, and said the best way to eliminate them is to withhold federal funding:

"That’s really the only mechanism that I can think of off-hand," Toomey said. "There might be others, but it’s one of the tried and true mechanisms that the federal government can use to influence the behavior of cities and states. And I think that’s coming.”

Congressman Chaka Fattah called an amendment barring sanctuary cities from receiving Homeland Security grants a "press release amendment" that will not make the final Homeland Security appropriations bill. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Fattah, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, cautioned against molding the issues of immigration and crime into one. He said most criminal activity is not committed by immigrants overstaying their visas.

“It was an extraordinary tragic event in San Francisco,” Fattah said. “The bottom line is that you don’t take an individual event and try to make a policy or political hay out of it. We need to deal with our immigration issues. We also need to deal with crime and criminal justice issues in our country.”

The political urgency follows the death of Kathryn Steinle, the San Francisco woman allegedly killed by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who was dismissed after police picked him up on a decades-old drug charge. Lopez-Sanchez has been deported multiple times and has a criminal record lined with drug offenses.

Per an executive order signed by Nutter, Philadelphia police cannot detain any undocumented immigrant who otherwise would be released pending trial — unless they have been convicted of a violent felony and the detainer is supported by judicial warrant.

Under the Secure Communities program, ICE requests any undocumented immigrant arrested be detained, an attempt to apprehend dangerous criminals who enter the country illegally.

Cities across the country have abandoned the practice, claiming the aggressive use of detainers has prevented immigrants from reporting crimes to the police.

“The Philadelphia Police Department relies on information gathered from residents to solve crime and protect the safety of our communities, and without a significant level of trust, citizens do not talk to the police,” Nutter said in announcing Philadelphia as a sanctuary city.

But Philadelphia’s policy drew criticism just months after being adopted.

An undocumented Honduran man was charged in June 2014 with raping a 26-year-old doctor in her Rittenhouse Square apartment. The alleged perpetrator, Milton Mateo Garcia, had re-entered the United States after being deported one year earlier.

Garcia is awaiting trial and is being held without bail at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, right, is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. (Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via Associated Press)

Sanctuary city detractors, like Republican mayoral nominee Melissa Murray Bailey, point to such crimes as reasons to dismiss the practice.

Bailey, who supports pathways for law-abiding immigrants to receive citizenship, pledged to end Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city.

“By declaring Philadelphia a sanctuary city and not detaining illegal immigrants who have been convicted of a violent crime, we are putting the citizens of Philadelphia at risk,” Bailey said in a statement. “By allowing illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes to stay in our city we are proclaiming, ‘Come to Philadelphia, because even if you are in the country illegally and committing crimes, there is a place for you here.’”

Her opponent, Democratic nominee Jim Kenney, supports the sanctuary policy. Spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said Kenney finds it “reprehensible that Republicans are responding to the San Francisco tragedy by threatening to make America's largest cities less safe, rather than trying to address the core of our broken immigration system.”

Republicans, joined by a small number of Democrats, are upping pressure on the Obama administration to demand cities comply with federal immigration requests.

They questioned Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week. ICE Director Sarah Saldana and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez are expected to appear before a Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.