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July 26, 2017

Sessions' latest ultimatum on 'sanctuary city' funding could impact Philadelphia

Attorney General Jeff Sessions took a direct shot at Philadelphia and other "sanctuary cities" on Tuesday.

He also said he will notify those cities of new conditions for their annual share of a federal grant.

"So-called 'sanctuary' policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said in a statement.

Sessions stated that in order to receive Justice Assistance Grant funding, all cities and states will need to allow federal immigration officials access to jails and give 48 hours' notice before releasing an undocumented immigrant wanted by federal immigration authorities.

"This is what the American people should be able to expect from their cities and states," Sessions said.

The Republican and former U.S. senator from Alabama said the new guidelines would help combat street gangs such as the notorious MS-13 gang and "make our country safer."

The move comes roughly a year after the Department of Justice, under former President Barack Obama, announced similar guidelines that appeared to threaten JAG funding for sanctuary cities.

The Department of Justice told city administrators in 2016 and again in April that in order to receive JAG money, it would have to comply with Section 1373 of federal immigration law, which prohibits cities and states from withholding immigration status information from federal officials on those who encounter city police or other municipal agencies.

The city responded in June by telling the department it does not collect information on anyone's immigration status, and therefore city officials have no information to share with the government.

Sessions' latest attempt to crack down on sanctuary cities could have implications for Philly down the line.

The city was awarded a $1.67 million JAG grant last year for police overtime and training, but in May, Sessions said the Department of Justice would lawfully "claw-back" any funds awarded to a city or state that violates Section 1373. Sessions made no mention of that promise in his statement on Wednesday.

In a report Wednesday, Mayor Jim Kenney said the city has not broken any laws, and that he believes Sessions' latest move had more to do with politics than immigration policy.

"We believe we're in compliance and will move forward based on that and if anything else comes up, we'll probably wind up in court at some point," he said in the report.

The city has received $8.7 million in JAG funding since 2012. It's unclear how much the city would stand to receive in 2017 if it applies for another grant.

Philly first adopted "sanctuary" policies in 2014 under former Mayor Michael Nutter. Nutter changed those rules some in late December 2015, just before he was set to leave office, to share more immigration information with federal authorities.

But Kenney brought back Nutter's initial policies once he took office.

When Session spoke in Philly last Friday, he singled out the city as an increasingly violent one made more dangerous by undocumented immigrants.

"If we're going to stop the rise of violent crime, let's work together," Sessions said.

City Police Commissioner Richard Ross told the Associated Press that local law enforcement didn't belong "in the immigration business."

"As it relates to violent crime, our problems are not people from other countries," he said. "Our problem is the young men here who are hopeless about a lot of things."