PHILADELPHIA – The city of Philadelphia sued Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday over the Trump administration’s proposal to add new restrictions to grants for local governments in order to block sanctuary city policies.
In its federal complaint, the city claims the attorney general overstepped his authority on placing new conditions on federal criminal justice grants to local and state government.
The lawsuit stems from a July Trump administration directive that requires communities applying for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant to provide customs officials access to undocumented immigrants detained by local authorities.
Under the new Justice Department rules, Philadelphia and other cities receiving the grant money have to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials 48 hours’ notice before releasing any undocumented immigrants taken into custody.
ICE agents must also be given access to city detention facilities to question detainees about their immigration status.
In a statement announcing the filing of the lawsuit, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the new conditions, which target cities that refuse such federal requests, are “unprecedented” and “purely political.”
“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,” Kenney said.
The new conditions are part of the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws and deny ICE requests to detain undocumented immigrants.
But Philadelphia, which joins such cities as Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco in suing the government over the new requirements, says Sessions can’t use grant funding to force cities to implement a federal immigration policy they disagree with.
In taking what it says is a “arbitrary and capricious” step, Sessions is trying to “force localities to forsake their local discretion and act as agents of the federal government.”
Invoking their “basic rights to self-government,” the city says it has adopted certain policies that encourage trust between the “immigrant population and city officials and employees” as well as to help “people of all backgrounds to take full advantage of the city’s resources and opportunities.”
These include forbidding Philly cops from asking anyone about their immigration status, giving prisoners a choice when Federal agents request interviews and refusing to provide Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials with information on anyone unless they have been convicted of “a first or second-degree felony involving violence,” according to the complaint.
Philadelphia even has its own “confidentiality order,” an executive order signed by former Mayor Michael Nutter that declares that Philadelphia “fares better if all residents, including undocumented immigrants, pursue health care services, enroll their children in public education, and report crimes,” according to the complaint.
Philadelphia’s current Mayor, Jim Kenney, signed two more executive orders that further limit cooperation between ICE agents and city officials and prisons.
The city is asking U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson to declare it in compliance with all immigration-related laws in effect prior to the July order, and to enjoin the Justice Department from enforcing the new grant requirements.
The grant is named after NYPD Officer Edward Byrne, who was assassinated while on detail protecting a witness who had agreed to testify in court against a drug-running gang.
The program “provides states, tribes, and local governments with critical funding necessary to support a range of program areas including law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, planning, evaluation, technology improvement, and crime victim and witness initiatives and mental health programs and related law enforcement and corrections programs, including behavioral programs and crisis intervention teams,” according to the Bureau’s website.
The city estimates that there are 50,000 undocumented immigrants currently living in Philadelphia.
The city is represented by Virginia Gibson of Hogan Lovells in Philadelphia.
A representative of the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.