November 30, 2016
Bobby Allyn

Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey urged President-elect Donald Trump to take immediate action against Philadelphia and other sanctuary cities for not cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

"I hope that our president will take the executive order steps that he can to at least diminish this problem," Toomey said Wednesday from the Senate floor.

Toomey rattled off the names of three Philadelphia criminals in recent years who allegedly entered the country illegally. He said the city refused to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents about the individuals once they were released.

"How can this possibly happen?" Toomey said. "That a city would knowingly, willfully and repeatedly choose to release dangerous criminals, including child molesters, who don't even have a right to be in the United States in the first place because they came here illegally."

Toomey is hoping that the Republican majority in Congress passes his bill, which will deprive sanctuary cities of federal community development block grants. Philadelphia used nearly $39 million in block grants this year.

More than 30 other Pennsylvania counties have policies, whether formal or unwritten, that do not comply with federal immigration detainers. Records show that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development expected to provide the state with more than $169 million in community development block grants. The money supports things like communities hardest hit with foreclosures and low-income areas reeling from natural disasters.

But if Toomey's bill succeeds, the federal assistance could be in jeopardy.

Last summer, Senate Democrats blocked the measure.

"I am suggesting we revisit this because these appalling crimes are continuing to be committed, as of course they will if cities keep releasing violent criminals back on our streets," Toomey said.

Lauren Hitt, spokeswoman for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, responded that it's bad policing to turn local cops into ICE agents and that many city police investigations rely on the cooperation of undocumented residents. Souring the relationship between them and police would make the city less safe, she said.

Kenney avoids saying sanctuary city and instead uses the label Fourth Amendment city, saying that individuals should not be held against their will without a warrant signed by a judge.

"They're not going to cooperate with the police on the chance that they could get a special exception. They're not going to risk it at all, and the safety of all Philadelphians will suffer as a result," Hitt said of undocumented immigrations."There is already so much tension between police and communities across the country. Why are we going to take a step backwards?"

Toomey isn't buying that argument, saying mayors are playing politics, and law enforcement officials are caught in the middle.

"It's not the police's fault," Toomey said. "Police would much rather be cooperating with federal immigration officials. They're not allowed to because local politicians in cities across America have decided that they won't allow it to take place."

The immigration issue became a hot topic in Toomey's race against Democratic challenger Katie McGinty, whom he accused of waffling on sanctuary cities. He took broadsides against her in radio and television ads as a candidate who is weak in the face of rising illegal immigration, specifically citing sanctuary cities as an area in which he claimed McGinty had an unsettled position.

Toomey defeated McGinty by 1.8 percentage points to be re-elected.