Attorney General: Federal Money for Philly Could be Pulled Due to City's Refusal to Comply with Immigration Laws

Philadelphia received $26 million in grants in 2015 from the Department of Justice, money that the U.S. Attorney General threatened to pull.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect an emphasis Sessions placed during his press conference on U.S. Code 1373, which regulates exchange of information and cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration agencies.

The Philadelphia Police Department budgeted $500,000 to outfit police recruits with bulletproof vests in the current fiscal year -- to be paid for through a federal grant.

Another $162,500 in federal money is slated to go toward the department’s High Intensity Drug Traffic Area (HIDTA) investigations.

Two other grants for police will provide $1,450,000 “to improve the quality of life in all neighborhoods” and $934,000 for the salaries and benefits of 25 police officers.

The money in all four, listed in the city budget, are part of millions that the city of Philadelphia gets annually from the U.S. Department of Justice.

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday that those dollars are in jeopardy because of Philadelphia’s ongoing refusal to turn over information about undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. Additionally, the city, like dozens of others, does not honor what are known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers. Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials have argued that the detainers violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

In a surprise press conference Monday at the White House, Sessions renewed a months-long threat by the Trump administration that “sanctuary cities” either comply with immigration laws or lose DOJ grants.

“I’m urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws. Moreover, the Department of Justice will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants certify compliance as a condition of receiving those rewards,” Sessions said. “Failure to remedy violations could result in withholding grants, termination of grants, and disbarment or ineligibility for future grants. The Department of Justice will also take all lawful steps to claw back any funds awarded.”

He did not give a deadline for compliance.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is warning cities to stop harboring undocumented immigrants or lose funding and Philadelphia leaders are not backing down after that sanctuary city threat. NBC10’s Matt DeLucia is in Center City with the details.

The DOJ gave $26 million in grants to Philadelphia in the 2015 fiscal year, which a city spokeswoman said was the most recent year in which a comprehensive total is available.

“The Attorney General’s comments today are a direct attack on public safety,” Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said. “He is threatening to take away money from the police department 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. And if residents can’t call the police, then it is extremely difficult to get criminals off the street. If we are forced to change Philadelphia’s policy on this, all of our residents will be less safe.”

Sessions argued the exact opposite.

“Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the street,” he said.

Hitt indicated that Philadelphia is still weighing its options when it comes to detainers.

"Today’s announcement did not present any issues we were not already evaluating, and we have very skilled outside counsel helping us evaluate what the real threats to funding are and what our legal options are," she said.

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