Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall

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Donald Trump and Philly’s suddenly perilous sanctuary city policy

Trump is anti-sanctuary city.

Thousands of immigrants — many who are undocumented — woke up nervous in Philadelphia on Wednesday as the phrase “President-elect Donald Trump” became a reality.

But in addition to severe concerns of widespread deportation and anti-immigrant rhetoric, the city also has something huge to consider: It could lose all federal funding because of its status as a sanctuary city. That policy means that city officials don’t comply with requests from the federal government to detain undocumented immigrants in police custody who didn’t commit a violent crime.

Trump is vehemently anti-sanctuary city. That’s not all that different from President Barack Obama, whose administration also pushed Philadelphia and cities like it to abandon its sanctuary city policy. Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson asked Mayor Jim Kenney to ditch the policy and the federal government threatened to pull federal grant money — but the mayor refused.

However, Trump’s anti-sanctuary city policy goes further. During a speech in Gettysburg at the end of October, Trump promised that on his first day in office on Jan. 20 he will move to cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities.

A spokeswoman for Kenney said the administration is “not going to speculate on what could happen two months from now.”

“The bottom line,” Lauren Hitt said, “is that we are committed to continuing Philadelphia’s diversity and inclusion and he’ll do whatever he can to protect it.”

A unilateral loss of all federal funding could certainly hurt the City of Philadelphia which, like many cities, has been cash-strapped since the recession and a decrease in state funding. In fiscal year 2017, the City of Philadelphia is set to receive $28 million in federal aid, according to the city budget. That doesn’t include the tens of millions of dollars in grant money that go to institutions across the city or federal dollars that fund things like transportation projects overseen by PennDOT.

That hit would be all the more devastating should a bill pass in the state that could also impact Philadelphia’s state funding. According to the budget, the city is set to receive $223 million in state aid in fiscal year 2017.

The sanctuary cities bill making its way through the state legislature was introduced by Northeast Philadelphia-based Pa. Rep. Martina White, a Republican representative who won re-election Tuesday. That bill passed through the critical House Committee on State Government in September and is still working its way through other committees. White’s bill would have to pass both the House and the Senate and be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, to actually pass and impact the city.

The mayor has previously slammed White’s bill, saying it would erode trust between police and the communities they serve.

“If the City failed to comply with this incredibly dangerous law, we would lose funding for thousands of our most vulnerable children,” Kenney said in the statement. “If Rep. White wants to help those children, she needs to spend less time helping the Republican Party dog-whistle and more time working on school funding so that our children can actually have a safe, stable learning environment.”

Philadelphia had a sanctuary city designation since 2014 under former Mayor Michael Nutter who, just before leaving office, briefly ended that status. On his first day in office this year, Kenney reinstated the policy to support from immigrant advocacy groups.

Under the policy, Philadelphia refuses to comply with detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in some cases. Proponents of the policy say the city shouldn’t be in the business of reporting undocumented immigrants to the feds because they were discovered by police or other officials for a minor offense.

Opponents, though, like the Obama administration, Trump and most of the Republican party say the dangerous policy allows criminals who would normally be subject to deportation to go free and have opportunity to commit further crimes. The president-elect has also touted that he was endorsed by the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, a 5,000-member union. The group has never before endorsed a presidential candidate.

Other cities across the country with sanctuary city status have expressed fear about what could occur under Trump’s administration. City officials in San Francisco are nervous, while leaders in Seattle have vowed to remain a sanctuary city despite Trump’s presidency.

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