US Attorney General to Philly, sanctuary cities: ‘End this policy’ or lose millions

The city could lose funding that goes to domestic violence arrest support and rape kits.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's nominee for Attorney General, testifies during a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's nominee for Attorney General, testifies during a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Screenshot via PBS

Update, 8:00 p.m.

The Trump administration has sent another warning to Philadelphia to rescind its sanctuary city status or prepare to lose millions.

Earlier today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced all sanctuary cities “must end” their policies and cooperate fully with immigration officials. And if they don’t, he said, they would not be eligible for Department of Justice grants.

If the DOJ carries through on its threat, Philadelphia could lose about $2 million annually. The types of grants it would lose are Justice Assistance Grants and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. Philadelphia received $1.6 million each in JAG grants in 2016 and 2015 and a total of $9 million the last five years. The $1.6 million in 2015 was the third-highest award in the United States.

Philadelphia did not receive any SCAAP funding last year and received about $150,000 the previous year. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts SCAAP funds entirely.

In the past these DOJ funds have been used for domestic violence arrest and enforcement support, DNA backlog reduction (read: testing rape kits), re-entry programs, bulletproof vests for police officers and more.

Sessions’ announcement adheres to the same policy as the Obama Administration. Last summer, the DOJ issued similar guidelines mandating communication with ICE officials and warned cities that didn’t follow them would lose DOJ funding. Philadelphia has yet to be denied such funding, and neither has any other sanctuary city.

Lauren Hitt, communications director for the Mayor’s Office, said via email today’s news didn’t present any news the office isn’t already dealing with and said the administration and legal counsel continue to evaluate funding threats.

“The Attorney General’s comments today are a direct attack on public safety,” she said. “He is threatening to take away money from police departments for what amounts to nothing more than good police work. Undocumented residents and their family members are much less likely to call law enforcement  when they are a witness to or a victim of a crime if they know that the police will turn them in to ICE.”

The loss of DOJ funding would be far less substantial than what state legislators are threatening against Philadelphia. A Pennsylvania Senate bill would withhold all state grants from sanctuary cities, of which Philadelphia receives about $600 million annually, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee. This week, Northeast Philly-based Pa. Rep. Martina White plans to announce a similar bill in the House. Her bill seeks to remove all state funding that is not constitutionally mandated and could lead to the same $600 million loss in grant money, plus hundreds of millions more.

Philly’s sanctuary city policy was started under Mayor Michael Nutter in 2014 and rescinded in late 2015 under pressure from the Obama Administration. Kenney brought it back through an executive order in his first month in office in 2016. The policy prohibits Philadelphia law officials from communicating with immigration agents about the release of inmates. Through detainer requests, immigration agents can request prisoners be kept up to an additional 48 hours past their normal release.

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