August 30, 2017
City officials have filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claiming new conditions to a federal grant program that require Philadelphia to end its sanctuary city policies are unlawful.
The lawsuit, announced Wednesday by Mayor Jim Kenney, is the latest in the ongoing national debate regarding sanctuary cities, like Philadelphia, where local law enforcement agencies refuse to adhere to federal immigration orders.
The lawsuit asks the court to prevent Sessions from adding several new conditions to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program – commonly known as JAG funding. The new conditions require sanctuary cities to reverse their policies to receive the funding.
Philadelphia received $1.6 million from the JAG program last year, according to city officials. In the last 11 years, the city has received an average award of $2.2 million.
The grant funding is provided to assist local law enforcement departments. Philadelphia has used its JAG funding to pay for police overtime, equipment enhancements, courtroom technology upgrades, law enforcement training and alternative rehab programs for low-level offenders.
Sessions announced the conditions on July 25 – four days after giving a speech in Philadelphia. They require cities seeking JAG grants to comply with federal immigration law, allow federal immigration officials access to detention facilities and provide 48 hours notice before they release an undocumented immigrant wanted by federal authorities.
The additional conditions were announced about one month before the grant application is due.
"As far as we can tell, these unprecedented grant conditions are purely political," Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. "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. We will not let this administration interfere with our longstanding efforts to bring members of Philadelphia's immigrant community from the shadows."
The lawsuit claims Sessions is overstepping his authority by changing the JAG program in a way that Congress never intended.
When Chicago officials filed a similar lawsuit earlier this month, Sessions responded by saying the Trump administration "will not simply give away grant dollars to city governments that proudly violate the rule of the law and protect criminal aliens at the expense of public safety."
In June, City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming its immigration policies fall in line with federal law.
Because the city does not collect information on anyone's immigration status, it has no information to share with federal officials. That, Tulante wrote, keeps the city in compliance with federal immigration law.