Pa. House may vote on punishing sanctuary cities

    Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney greets immigration activists on the day of his inauguration last January. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney greets immigration activists on the day of his inauguration last January. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    The bill would limit state funding and make cities liable for crimes committed by illegal immigrants. 

    Update: The Pennsylvania House GOP has said that the bill will not get a vote before the end of the 2015-2016 legislative session. 

    Sanctuary cities are places that do not detain immigrants in the country illegally on behalf of the federal government, after they otherwise would have been released from custody.

    The Pennsylvania House is considering a bill that would financially punish cities and counties that qualify as sanctuary cities, or what the bill calls “municipalities of refuge.” These municipalities would be ineligible for state law enforcement grants, and be financially liable for crimes committed by those released from custody despite a detainer request from federal immigration authorities. 

    The bill passed both chambers with veto-proof majorities, but thanks to changes made during Senate consideration, it must pass the House once again. Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Governor Tom Wolf, said in a statement, “If the sanctuary cities bill reaches the Governor’s desk, he will review it before making a decision, but he has serious concerns about the legal and financial burdens it would place on local governments.”

    While the Senate fiscal note associated with the bill only identifies five sanctuary cities in the state, there are 32 counties with policies, written or unwritten, that could be impacted by this bill.

    Most of those counties do not honor immigration detainer requests without a judicial order or arrest warrant attached, in an effort to protect themselves from legal liability. In 2008, Lehigh County was sued for improperly detaining a legal citizen, despite accurately following a federal request. 

    If this bill passes, counties will be in a tough spot. They leave themselves open to financial liability if they blindly follow immigration detainer requests, but they are also able to be sued if they don’t. 

    Pennsylvania would be among the first states to try to punish sanctuary cities in this way, though it seems the federal government may not be far behind.

    President-Elect Donald Trump’s plan for his first 100 days in office includes removing all federal funding from sanctuary cities. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Thursday that, despite state and federal pressure, he has no plans to reverse the city’s policy — for now.

    Eds. note: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that the House is not scheduled to vote on the bill on Monday 11/14, a non-voting day. 


    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.