Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is taking on U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, saying Tuesday that the Republican's criticism of his city's sanctuary status is fearmongering in line with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's stances on immigrants.
Kenney's shot at Toomey on Tuesday came a day before the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on a Toomey bill that would withhold certain federal grants from sanctuary cities.
Toomey is using Philadelphia's sanctuary city status as a wedge issue against Democratic challenger Katie McGinty in his bid for second term in the November election.
"Senator Toomey's bill is pulled straight from Donald Trump's anti-immigrant playbook," Kenney said in a statement.
The issue of sanctuary cities is one of several — along with gun control, immigration and police access to surplus military gear — that are being tied to crime and terrorism and injected into Pennsylvania's closely watched race for U.S. Senate.
Toomey has said that sanctuary city policies like Philadelphia's make it harder to stop terrorism, illegal immigration or violent crimes. Toomey also has said that Philadelphia police officials privately oppose Kenney's policy, and that it was not always the policy adopted by Kenney's predecessors as mayor.
"I love Philadelphia, but Mayor Kenney's reversal of the policies favored by Mayors Nutter and Rendell is putting Pennsylvanians in danger, including those who live in the city and in the rest of the state," Toomey said in a statement.
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Kenney, a Democrat, said Toomey's claims about Philadelphia are wrong.
Philadelphia cooperates with the federal government in cases where terrorism is suspected, federal charges are filed or first- or second-degree felonies are committed, Kenney said.
Toomey's claims to the contrary "are nothing more than fearmongering to further his re-election campaign," Kenney said.
Toomey's bill was not expected to pass, after similar legislation failed last year to reach the Senate's 60-vote threshold to move to a final vote.
Kenney's administration has said that evidence suggests that sanctuary cities are possibly safer than those that cooperate with immigration authorities because immigrants are not afraid to report crimes or otherwise cooperate with the police.
His administration also maintains that a long-standing immigration policy of issuing detainers has unfairly damaged the lives of otherwise law-abiding people who were stopped for things like nuisance crimes.
Federal immigration detention requests, or "detainers," have been successfully challenged in court by critics who say they indiscriminately target immigrants, including many innocent of criminal wrongdoing.
Undocumented immigrants arrested for less serious crimes in Philadelphia would not be detained or reported to the federal government, a Kenney spokeswoman said, unless federal authorities presented a judicial warrant requesting their detention.
On Tuesday, McGinty released a letter to Kenney urging him to do more to cooperate with the federal government to ensure "that violent criminals, suspected terrorists or others who pose a threat are apprehended and prosecuted."
McGinty also blamed Congress and Toomey for failing to fix the nation's immigration system and failing to provide adequate support to local law enforcement.
A Kenney spokeswoman said Tuesday that the administration has asked for more discussion with the federal government after a May visit by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. But, she said, it will take more from the federal authorities to undo the damage of abusive federal immigration policies.
Republicans have pushed for action against sanctuary cities since last July when 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed in San Francisco.
The man charged in the killing was in the country illegally despite a long criminal record and multiple prior deportations. He had been released by San Francisco authorities despite a request from federal immigration authorities to keep him detained.