Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is urging his Democratic opponent, Katie McGinty, to side with the Obama administration on the issue of sanctuary cities.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson went to Philadelphia this week to ask Mayor Jim Kenney to drop the sanctuary city policy that stops local law enforcement from notifying federal authorities when they have apprehended illegal immigrants. Kenney rejected the administration's request, and now, Toomey is asking McGinty to take Obama's side.
Recent Stories in Politics
"The people of Pennsylvania deserve a safe place to live, work, and raise their families," Toomey wrote in his letter to McGinty. "The sanctuary city policy you have defended threatens that. I urge you to drop your opposition and heed the bipartisan calls to put public safety first, and call on Mayor Kenney to reverse his sanctuary city policy."
McGinty defended Philadelphia's policy last month when asked by a radio host whether it would be a good thing if sanctuary city policies were ended across the country.
"Well, listen, I think sometimes these labels and buzzwords are very divisive, and unnecessarily so," McGinty said. "'Sanctuary cities' would somehow suggest that local police forces and local law enforcement are somehow encouraging a violation of law, and I think nothing more to the contrary is actually happening."
"Look, federal government should not be handing off its own responsibilities to local police forces that are already stretched," McGinty said.
The issue could put a wedge between McGinty and the administration, which has thus far been a major ally for her campaign. McGinty's come-from-behind victory in last week's primary was fueled by endorsements from Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who spent time on the campaign trail with McGinty in the race's final days.
Her support of the sanctuary city policy came as a surprise to many given that former Gov. Ed Rendell, McGinty's campaign chairman, had voiced the opposite opinion months earlier.
"I think we should obey the law and remember, it’s the Obama administration that’s enforcing the deportation laws," said Rendell. "So, I think I would’ve not made us a sanctuary city."
Toomey's letter attempts to put McGinty on the opposite side of both the Obama administration and Rendell.
"As former Governor and Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell explained, ‘we should be a more open and friendly city for immigrants,' but ‘you can do that without becoming a sanctuary city,'" Toomey wrote. "I agree. While the vast majority of immigrants to America are honest, hardworking people, every group includes some wrongdoers."
"When both the Obama administration and our police officers agree that an illegal immigrant poses a threat to the people of Philadelphia, we should let them act—not overrule their judgment with an ill-conceived sanctuary city policy," he wrote.
Toomey also took aim at McGinty for "dismissing all criticism of sanctuary cities as merely ‘buzzwords,'" pointing to the tragic case of Kate Steinle, who was murdered by an illegal immigrant who would have been off the streets if not for San Francisco's sanctuary city status.
"These are not mere ‘buzzwords' as you suggest," Toomey wrote. "Real lives in the Philadelphia area are at stake."
Toomey argues that Philadelphia's policy, implemented by Kenney in January, is actually more extreme than San Francisco's.
"Under this new policy, Philadelphia police are not allowed to notify federal agents when a violent offender is about to be released from custody or detain that person unless those agents have a court-issued warrant," Toomey wrote. "Additionally, Philadelphia's new sanctuary city policy prevents police from cooperating with federal immigration officials to apprehend suspected terrorists, unless the federal agents have a court-issued warrant and the suspect has already been convicted of a violent felony."
The McGinty campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.