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Philadelphia files lawsuit against Jeff Sessions

The City of Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit claiming Attorney General Jeff Sessions is overstepping his authority with new grant conditions that target immigration information.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The city had filed a lawsuit against over new grant conditions. (Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the City of Philadelphia filed a lawsuit in federal court against United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking the court to stop Sessions from adding, what city officials called “unlawful conditions” to the Edward Byrne Memorial Assistance Grant program.

Last year, Philadelphia received $1.6 million from that grant program and, city officials said in a statement released Wednesday morning, that Philadelphia receives an average award of about $2.2 million for the past 11 years.

However, city officials point out that, “just barely a month” before grant applications were due for this year’s grant, Session’s added several conditions that would require the city to comply with Section 1373 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code – which would require local authorities to comply with any request for a citizen’s immigration information from the Immigration and Nationalization Service – as well as, provide 48-hours notice to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, on any “scheduled release” of “prisoners of interest” and would allow ICE, what city officials called “unfettered access” to interview inmates throughout Philadelphia’s prison system.

“As far as we can tell, these unprecedented grant conditions are purely political,” said Mayor Jim Kenney, in a statement released Wednesday. “The Trump administration claims that it is imposing these to keep Philadelphians safer, but the facts don’t lie. Philadelphia isn’t breaking federal law. We’re doing smart policing and, as a result, we had the lowest level of crime in 2016 that we’ve had in 40 years. We will not let this Administration interfere with our longstanding efforts to bring members of Philadelphia’s immigrant community from the shadows.” 

According to the statement, back in June, the city submitted a certification of compliance with Section 1373 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code, noting then that, because Philadelphia “doesn’t proactively collect immigration information,” it has no information to share.

In a statement, city officials said that, in the past, money obtained through this grant program has been spent on police overtime and equipment enhancements, upgrades to courtroom technology, training for law enforcement, and alternative rehab programs for low-level offenders.

City officials contend that although “the Attorney General administers the grant, congress established the JAG program to help local law enforcement fight crime” and, that with this move, Sessions has “announced new rules for that program outside the federal statute that created the program, overstepping his authority by changing the program in a way that congress never intended.”

In a statement, city officials say that these conditions would violate the constitution.

“The Justice Department’s immigration-related conditions have nothing to do with strengthening the City’s criminal justice system, which is what the Byrne JAG program is all about. We are therefore asking a court to intervene and to recognize that the Attorney General lacks the authority to impose any of these conditions,” said City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante in a statement. “Fundamentally, the Attorney General cannot use this vital law-enforcement funding as a way to coerce Philadelphia into implementing federal immigration policy and, in turn, heighten  fear and anxiety among our immigrant residents.”

With this lawsuit, Philadelphia is asking a federal judge to determine that it’s unlawful for Sessions and the Department of Justice to impose these new conditions on the grant program, prohibit the DOJ from imposing them and determine that, if the imposition of Section 1373 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code is, indeed found lawful, that Philadelphia does comply with the statute.