A new Justice Department policy announced last week bars sanctuary cities such as Philadelphia, the host of the Democratic National Convention, from receiving millions of dollars worth of federal law enforcement grants, putting further pressure on Pennsylvania Democrats to abandon policies that impede federal immigration officials.
The Justice Department notified cities last Thursday that they would no longer receive federal law enforcement grants, which totaled $3.4 billion in the past five years, if they have laws on the books that interfere with requests for immigration information from federal authorities.
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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who implemented the policy that bars cooperation between city law enforcement and federal immigration agents earlier this year, has resisted pressure from the Obama administration to back down on the issue. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson even traveled to Philadelphia to personally request that Kenney change course but was rejected.
Philadelphia was slated to receive $1.68 million this year through the federal government's Justice Assistance Grant and other programs, according to the Philly Voice. The city has received $8.6 million since 2012 through Justice Department programs.
The Justice Department announcement comes just weeks before thousands descend on Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention in late July.
Sanctuary cities have already emerged as a critical issue in Pennsylvania's Senate election. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey criticized his Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty, for her support of Kenney in the fight.
In a letter to McGinty following the federal government's announcement, Toomey aligned himself with the Obama administration.
"The Obama administration and I agree that sanctuary cities that forbid their local law enforcement officers from sharing information with federal immigration officials to apprehend violent criminals and terrorist suspects should not be rewarded with federal money," Toomey wrote.
Toomey challenged McGinty, whose support for Kinney has softened in recent days, to do more than just call for "dialogue."
"Last week you called for more "dialogue" between the City of Philadelphia and the Obama administration, but still refused to reject Mayor Kenney’s policy as others have done, including former Pennsylvania Governor and Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell," Toomey wrote. "I welcome your shift in position, but it is woefully inadequate."
McGinty wrote off critics of Philadelphia's sanctuary city law earlier this year when asked during a radio interview whether it would be good to end sanctuary city policies nationwide.
"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.
During a congressional hearing, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson singled out Philadelphia as "particularly resistant to working with federal officials as they try and locate immigrants who should be deported."
Legislation by Toomey that would have barred sanctuary cities from receiving some federal grants failed in the Senate last week, though it received support from some Democrats in the Senate. McGinty opposed the legislation.