Trump follows through on promise to crack down on Philly, other sanctuary cities

    Supporters of undocumented immigrants participate in a protest outside the Philadelphia Department of Human Services in September. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

    Supporters of undocumented immigrants participate in a protest outside the Philadelphia Department of Human Services in September. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

    On Wednesday, President Donald Trump followed through on his campaign promise to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities” like Philadelphia.

    But both critics and supporters of the executive order, titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” say it’s not clear what the impact will be.

    In the order, Trump says many immigrants who stay in the U.S. illegally are a threat to national security and public safety and calls for cutting federal funds to sanctuary cities, which he says are in violation of federal law.

    Immigrant advocates don’t agree on that point.

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    “[Cities] have the right not to collaborate with ICE [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement],” said Johanna Calle, program director with the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “It’s always been optional.”

    Another gray area is the fact there is also no single, legal definition of what a “sanctuary city” is, although Wednesday’s executive order does empower the new Secretary of Homeland Security “to designate… a jurisdiction as a sanctuary jurisdiction.”

    In Philadelphia’s case, the term is applied due to the city’s formal policy limiting local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration agents under some circumstances. ICE may request that local police hold someone they believe is in violation of his or her immigration status, but Philadelphia will not honor the request without a warrant.  However, the city does share arrest information with the federal agency through a real-time database.

    In a statement, Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey praised the order as a “preliminary step to help end dangerous sanctuary cities.”

    Toomey has been a vocal proponent of pressuring sanctuary cities to comply with federal detainer requests, citing specific instances of violent crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants.

    But Toomey said without legislation, the order will not sustain legal attacks and achieve its stated purpose. The Pennsylvania Senator introduced such a bill last year, but it failed to win the votes needed.

    “Only Congress can act to withhold millions of dollars of formula grants and thus provide the incentive needed to prompt sanctuary cities to change their policies,” he said.

    Elected officials and advocates say without specific information about which funds will be cut, local policy is unlikely to change.

    “The executive order doesn’t actually say anything in terms of law, it’s just a directive to the Secretary [of Homeland Security] to look for these streams of funding,” said Calle. “So it has not created anything concrete.”

    Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and his administration are sticking to their guns.

    “Today’s [executive order] is simply a directive, as the Trump administration hasn’t even identified yet what federal grant funding they think they could cut,” said Kenney spokeswoman Ajeenah Amir. “Nothing about the city’s policy is changing as of today.”

    As PlanPhilly has reported, federal block grants for community development — a pool of money Toomey has suggested withholding from sanctuary cities — make up $38.6 million of Philadelphia’s current fiscal year budget.

    While Trump’s move was not a surprise, local immigrants affected by the presidential actions still reacted strongly, according to Peter Pedimonti, executive director of the nonprofit, New Sanctuary Movement.

    “From what we’ve heard from our members, it’s a mix of anger, really strong anger,” he said. “Also just exhaustion with the Trump administration.”

    They’re also organizing. Members of Juntos and other immigration activist groups plan to protest the president and Republican Caucus’ visit to Philadelphia on Thursday.

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