PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepped up his verbal attacks on sanctuary cities during a speech in Philadelphia on Friday, inspiring sharp rebukes from the city’s mayor and police commissioner.
Philadelphia is one of the largest cities in America to have declared itself a sanctuary city.
But speaking at the U.S. Attorney’s office Friday, Sessions insisted efforts to shield undocumented immigrants from federal law enforcement put the public at risk and is slowing the administration’s efforts to arrest the spread of gang violence.
“Some jurisdictions in this country refuse to cooperate with the federal government when it comes to immigration authorities to turn over illegal aliens who commit crimes, even MS-13 members,” Sessions said as protesters rallied outside the building, which is located across the street from the Liberty Bell.
“These policies are often called sanctuary policies, but they are giving sanctuary not to law abiding citizens of our communities, they are providing sanctuary to criminals,” Sessions said.
The Trump administration maintains these individuals should be deported.
But Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who listened to Session’s speech, said while the Attorney General blames immigrants for violent crime, the bigger problem is young native-born young American men who have been hopeless in the face of seemingly inescapable poverty.
Speaking with the Associated Press, Ross said he doesn’t think local law enforcement “belongs in the immigration business.”
He went on to say it’s hard enough for police to build bonds with local residents without having them worry about their immigration status.
Sessions’ remarks came a day after a federal judge in San Francisco rejected the Trump administration’s request to lift an injunction against an executive order President Donald Trump issued aimed at limiting federal funding for cities and countries with sanctuary policies.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick said a memorandum Sessions issued purporting to limit the impact of Trump’s order did not provide a sufficient guarantee to the local governments that they wouldn’t face more aggressive enforcement of the order in the future.
During his remarks, Sessions said it pained him that Philadelphia has declared itself a sanctuary city.
“This is especially sad for the residents of Philadelphia who have been victimized as a result of these policies,” the attorney general said quoted crime statistics he said showed in marked rise in violent crimes in the city and across the country.
“The murder rate has surged nearly 11 percent nationwide,” Sessions said. “In Philadelphia, from 2014 to 2015, murders went up nearly 13 percent and shooting victims increased by more than 18 percent.”
Sessions called these numbers “shocking,” but he said what’s more important are the “people behind the numbers.”
Sessions spoke of several murders that have occurred in Philadelphia, including the recent killing of 14-year old Tymier Frasier, who was caught in crossfire “on his way to a friend’s house to play video games.”
“Too many good people are living as hostages in their own homes. They deserve better, and I call on everyone to remember that it’s not our privileged communities that suffer the most from crime and violence. Regardless of wealth or race, every American has the right to demand a safe neighborhood,” Sessions said.
The attorney general then assured those in the room that “local police are not the problem … The problem is the policies that tie [their] hands.”
But Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement that there is no indication the city’s status as a sanctuary city is driving up crime.
“The very same year that I reinstated Philadelphia’s so-called sanctuary policy, the city experienced its lowest rate of crime in 40 years,” Kenney said. “The Trump administration is threatening to reverse that progress. If victims and witnesses of crimes don’t report those crimes to the police because they fear deportation, that allows the real bad guys to stay on the streets.”
“Blaming an entire group of people for our country’s problems and violating their right to due process isn’t constitutional and it isn’t American,” the mayor continued. “Philadelphia treats immigrants as we would any other resident under our criminal justice system.”
But Sessions maintained most of the American public believes that philosophy is ill-advised.
“According to one poll, 80 percent of the public believes that cities should turn over criminal illegal aliens to immigration officials,” Sessions said, referring to a Harvard-Harris poll.
“I urge the city of Philadelphia and every sanctuary city to carefully consider the harm they are doing to their residents by refusing to cooperate with … law enforcement and to re-think these policies… The American people want and deserve a lawful immigration system that keeps us safe and serves our national interest. This expectation is fair, it is reasonable, and it is our duty to meet it,” he said.