Attorney General Jeff Sessions Speaks About Sanctuary Cities, MS-13 in Philadelphia

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a speaking appearance in one of the country's biggest sanctuary cities Friday.

He spoke about that controversial topic in the heart of Philadelphia, which under Mayor Jim Kenney has vowed to continue policies that the Department of Justice says doesn't comply fully with federal immigration law.

At the Center City offices of the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania, Sessions also talked about gangs like MS-13 and the need for quality local policing.

He emphasized of the violent nature of gangs like MS-13 and said they recruit young new members from schools, "even elementary schools."

“The more they recruit, the more damage they do,” Sessions said. He called for everyone "to work together to take MS-13 off the streets."

Sessions even said the violent MS-13 gang is operating in Philadelphia.

Protesters of the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration demonstrated outside the federal building at 6th and Chestnut streets.

Sessions initially planned the visit for early July, but canceled.

The attorney general and Philadelphia officials have been at odds over immigration enforcement since President Donald Trump took office in January. Philadelphia has been a so-called sanctuary city since Kenney began his term, though last year the city began calling itself a "Fourth Amendment city" in an effort to highlight constitutional rights protecting due process and probable cause.

Sessions said that by giving sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, the city is "providing sanctuaries for criminals."

“I urge the city of Philadelphia and every sanctuary city to consider carefully the harm they’re doing to residents by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement,” he said.

Under the Trump administration, federal law enforcement agencies, notably Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have asked for increased help from local agencies in detaining undocumented immigrants who have been arrested.

Philadelphia and many other municipal and county law enforcement agencies have refused to follow ICE's request to hold undocumented immigrants until federal agents can meet with the arrested individuals, which have become known as "ICE detainers."

And twice since January, the Department of Justice has publicly demanded local agencies follow federal guidance that involves police officers inquiring about the immigration status when making arrests. In March, the attorney general said Philadelphia and others risked losing Department of Justice grant money if they remained out of compliance.

He did not give a deadline for compliance at that time.

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.

In April, the DOJ sent a letter to Philadelphia and at least nine other local and state governments warning again about failure to comply with one federal guideline in particular.

The letter stated that Philadelphia is required to cooperate under Section 1373 of the federal code as per its grant agreement with the DOJ's Office of Justice Programs, which is one of the federal government's largest funding sources for local law enforcement. That section, the DOJ contends, is related to the federal government's request that local law enforcement provide information about the legal status of arrestees.

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