The U.S. government cannot withhold funding from Philadelphia based on the city’s immigration policies, a federal judge ruled in a decision that rebuked the hard-line stance of President Donald Trump’s administration as “unconstitutional.”
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held in a 93-page ruling that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions could not impose requirements that the city assist in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) roundups of undocumented immigrants as a condition of receiving a million-and-a-half dollars in federal grant money for local law enforcement.
The three requirements—that a city must provide ICE access to prisons to interview suspects, notice when undocumented immigrants are to be released from prison, and that the city is restricted from withholding a person’s citizenship status—formed the basis of Philadelphia’s lawsuit.
The city sued last summer, saying the police department is not an arm of immigration enforcement, and that making it one would damage community relations.
In his ruling, Baylson said the Trump administration’s view that undocumented immigrants are significant contributors to an allegedly rising crime rate in the city was simply false.
“The public statements of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, asserting that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born citizens, are inaccurate as applied to Philadelphia, and do not justify the imposition of these three conditions,” Baylson wrote.
Further, Baylson called the conditions “arbitrary and capricious.”
In November, Baylson issued a preliminary injunction against the Justice Department, temporarily barring it from cutting off funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant.
“Principles of federalism allow a city to deal with local issues as it sees best. The supremacy clause of the Constitution gives the federal government the final say—if, as, and when there is a conflict,” Baylson wrote in his Nov. 15 opinion. “In this case, given Philadelphia’s unique approach to meshing the legitimate needs of the federal government to remove criminal aliens with the city’s promotion of health and safety, there is no conflict of any significance.”
At a press conference in City Hall, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney praised Baylson’s ruling, proclaiming, “Philadelphia needs its immigrants.”
Baylson’s ruling “prevents a White House run by a bully from bullying Philadelphia into changing its policies,” Kenney said. “It is a ruling that should make clear to Attorney General Sessions that federal grant dollars cannot be used for a political shakedown. It is, most of all, a ruling that reminds everyone of why this city and this country exist—to give safe haven, and hope, to all those who flee tyranny, oppression and poverty in other parts of the world—to be a welcoming nation.”
Kenney was also quick to reiterate that the federal effort to block Philadelphia’s access to the money came from Washington, D.C., and said the city remains an affable partner with the DOJ offices in Philadelphia.
The Justice Department’s response to the ruling struck a very different tone from Kenney’s remarks.
“Today’s opinion from the district court in Philadelphia is a victory for criminal aliens in Philadelphia, who can continue to commit crimes in the city knowing that its leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country,” U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon, which included a list of seven undocumented immigrants in Philadelphia accused of crimes.
“The Justice Department continues to maintain that we exercised our authority, given by Congress, to attach conditions—designed to keep Americans safe—to public safety grants, and we will continue to fight to carry out the department’s commitment to the rule of law, protecting public safety, and keeping criminal aliens off the streets,” the statement continued.
The department did not indicate whether it plans to pursue an appeal.