(CN) – In an epic defeat for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a federal judge invoked the greatest refugee story ever told Wednesday to side with Philadelphia on its sanctuary-city law.
“As sailors in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ seeking to avoid the mythical sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis as they travel to the island of Thrinacia, Philadelphia seeks to avoid having to confront the choice between two alternatives which it finds undesirable,” the 93-page opinion opens with a flourish.
Going on to trace the Greek roots of the word dilemma, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson explained that Sessions gave Philadelphia the “Hobson’s choice” of losing $1.6 million in grants for local initiatives or giving up its status as a so-called sanctuary city that limit the cooperation they will provide federal immigration authorities.
Hobson’s choice is an expression that dates back to 16th century Cambridge where livery-stable owner Thomas Hobson was said to have employed a very strict rotation system for horse rentals: take the horse in his stall nearest to the door or none at all.
Three references to William Shakespeare also make appearances in the ruling Wednesday by Baylson, who was appointed by one of the most famously inarticulate presidents of our time, George W. Bush.
In plain English, Baylson ruled that Philadelphia can keep its pro-immigrant policies and its federal funding. The judge said Sessions violated the spending clause of the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court precedent and the Administrative Procedures Act.
A denouncement of the ruling meanwhile by Department of Justice spokesman Devin O’Malley meanwhile dispensed with indirection.
“Today’s opinion from the district court in Philadelphia is a victory for criminal aliens in Philadelphia, who can continue to commit crimes in the city knowing that its leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country,” O’Malley wrote.
Continuing Justice Department policy, O’Malley provided a list of identified and unidentified immigrants whom he claimed had benefitted from Philadelphia’s noncooperation with immigration detainers. Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement send these written requests to municipal authorities, asking them to hold a person for up to 48 hours so that federal officials can effect removal.
Judge Baylson found it relevant, however, that the Justice Department has no evidence to support its scare-mongering about a crime wave by undocumented immigrants.
“The public statements of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, asserting that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born citizens, are inaccurate as applied to Philadelphia,” Baylson said.
In 2016, Philadelphia Policy Commissioner Richard Ross testified that crime reached a 40-year low for reasons that he attributed to strategies that included outreach to immigrant communities.
“Commissioner Ross strongly disputed the accuracy of statements made by President Trump and Attorney General Sessions regarding immigrants being a major source of crime in large cities. Those statements do not apply to Philadelphia,” the ruling states. “The major source of crime in Philadelphia are people who were born and raised here.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, City Solicitor Marcel Pratt and Director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs Miriam Enriquez lined up to praise the decision.
“This is an important moment for all Philadelphians, especially our immigrant community,” Mayor Kenney said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “Judge Baylson’s ruling is a total and complete victory for the city. It prevents a White House run by a bully from bullying Philadelphia into changing its policies. It is a ruling that should make clear to Attorney General Sessions that federal grant dollars cannot be used for a political shakedown. It is, most of all, a ruling that reminds everyone of why this city and this country exist – to give safe haven, and hope, to those who flee tyranny, oppression and poverty in other parts of the world – to be a welcoming nation.”