Philly may be penalized for not cooperating with U.S. on holding immigrants

     New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia joins nine cities to provide sanctuary to immigrants in civil disobedience. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia joins nine cities to provide sanctuary to immigrants in civil disobedience. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Congressional Republicans want to crack down on cities including Philadelphia that protect undocumented immigrants by limiting local police cooperation with federal immigration officials. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would cut law enforcement funding to “sanctuary cities.”

    The crackdown comes after 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was gunned down in San Francisco on July 1. The suspect is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico with a criminal record who had been released by local authorities a few months prior.

    The House bill, passed Thursday along party lines by a 241-179 vote, now heads to the Senate;  President Barack Obama is already vowing to veto it.

    Representatives of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey, a Republican, and Bob Casey, a Democrat, ) did not respond to requests for comment, but Toomey expressed his support for curbing sanctuary cities on Talk Radio 1210 WPHT earlier this month.

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    “I don’t think this is defensible policy,” he said, adding that withholding some federal funds for law enforcement would be the only way to “influence the behavior of cities and states.”

    The bill would cut funding from the Department of Justice, which has provided at least $1.6 million in grants to Philadelphia since 2014, including $750,000 for a program to keep 105 young men from returning to prison. In 2012, department gave Philadelphia more than $3 million to help hire 25 new police officers. 

    Philadelphia does not consider itself a “sanctuary city” in the way San Francisco does, but House Republicans pushing the legislation appear to be using the term loosely to refer to jurisdictions that defy federal immigration authorities.

    In April 2014, Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order that the city will not keep immigrants in police custody at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. The order came at the urging of advocacy groups who warned of a culture of fear that had developed between immigrants and the Philadelphia Police Department.

    “People not coming out of their houses, people who were not speaking to police if they ever saw something,” said Erika Almiron, executive director of the Latino organization Juntos. “If they were victims of a crime, they weren’t calling the police. They were afraid of being deported.”

    Almiron says the relationship between Latino immigrants and the police in Philadelphia has since improved.

    “I think somebody’s documentation status does not protect anybody from tragedy,” she said of Steinle’s slaying.

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