The City of Philadelphia is suing U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions over what it calls the addition of “unlawful” conditions to a federal justice program that provides funding to cities’ local law enforcement.
The federal lawsuit was filed today and announced by Mayor Jim Kenney, who said, “As far as we can tell, these unprecedented grant conditions are purely political. [...] We will not let this administration interfere with our longstanding efforts to bring members of Philadelphia’s immigrant community from the shadows.”
The funding program at the heart of this lawsuit, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, was established by Congress to help cities’ local enforcement fight crime. Philly received $1.6 million from the JAG program last year, putting the funds toward things like police overtime, technology upgrades, and law enforcement training.
Sessions announced new conditions to this program in late July that would require the city to provide Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) with 48 hours of notice of the “scheduled release” of prisoners of interest and allow ICE “unfettered access” to interview inmates in Philadelphia’s prison system.
If Philly doesn’t comply with the new changes, it would lose its grant funding.
Philly is a sanctuary city. These cities typically refrain from using their local law enforcement to interfere with ICE’s operations. Lauren Hitt, communications director for the City of Philadelphia, says, “In Philadelphia, what it largely means is that our officers are prohibited from asking [the] status” of immigrants.
In May, Sessions offered the administration’s detailed definition of a sanctuary city: “Those that violate a federal law requiring local and state governments to share information with federal officials about immigrants’ citizenship or legal status.”
Kenney and other city officials claim that Sessions lacks authority to implement these changes to the program, and is changing the JAG program in ways that Congress never intended.
“Fundamentally, the Attorney General cannot use this vital law-enforcement funding as a way to coerce Philadelphia into implementing federal immigration policy and, in turn, heighten fear and anxiety among our immigrant residents,” said City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante.
Chicago also filed a similar lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier this year.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to further clarify the definition of a sanctuary city.