U.S. Senate candidates McGinty, Toomey tangle over immigration policy

Although the general election is more than five months away, Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates Katie McGinty and Pat Toomey are sparring over immigration. 

Specifically, the fight is over “sanctuary cities” — places like Philadelphia where local law enforcement does not keep immigrants in custody on behalf of federal immigration officials.

Republican incumbent Toomey’s campaign has put out a new TV ad painting his Democratic opponent as supporting these policies and alleging she “would allow Philadelphia’s extreme sanctuary rules.” It references a letter signed by some Pennsylvania county sheriffs urging McGinty to “oppose Philly’s dangerous policy.”

In truth, McGinty’s position isn’t entirely clear. 

While she has not publicly opposed Philadelphia’s immigration policy, McGinty has said “sanctuary cities are not the answer.”

Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the city in an attempt to convince Mayor Jim Kenney and advocates to comply with the Priorities Enforcement Program or PEP, a federal effort to target for deportation undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes. A previous effort, known as the Secure Communities program, was criticized for sweeping up undocumented, but otherwise law-abiding immigrants. That led to policies, such as Philadelphia’s, that aim to protect the immigrant community. 

Neither campaign would answer questions directly about whether the candidates support PEP.

A Toomey spokesman sent a link to a letter the senator sent to Kenney urging the mayor to accept Johnson’s “very reasonable request.”

“I agree with Secretary Jeh Johnson’s request to let Philadelphia’s police officers help the Department of Homeland Security find suspected terrorists and violent criminals hiding in Philadelphia,” he wrote. “This is in the best interest of public safety.”

McGinty spokeswoman Sabrina Singh pointed out a campaign email that says McGinty “supports changes that would allow local officials to cooperate with [the] federal government.”

While it appears the candidates may actually have some agreement on how the federal government is addressing sanctuary cities, the Toomey ad criticizes McGinty for not taking a stronger stance on the issue in her native city where she received overwhelming political support in the Democratic primary. Toomey spokesman Steve Kelly would not say whether the ad is running in Philadelphia, but said the campaign is “very comfortable airing this ad throughout all of Pennsylvania.”

When asked about the sanctuary cities scuffle during an event in Philadelphia last week, McGinty told reporters “the issue here is immigration reform that’s needed” and pointed out that in 2013, Toomey voted against a bill that would have overhauled the country’s immigration laws. That measure passed in the Senate, but was never taken up by the House. 

“He has blocked what was bipartisan common sense immigration reform, and I would be a force to help build that bipartisan consensus around common sense immigration reform,” McGinty said.

Kelly called McGinty’s argument a “dodge to hide her extreme liberal views.”

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