Pennsylvania Republicans Join Trump in Threatening Sanctuary Cities

Opponents of the Pennsylvania GOP's effort to punish sanctuary cities said the policy would create “a likelihood that counties will illegally hold people in jail as a result."

SB10, introduced by Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Jefferson Hills), would make municipalities or counties liable for damages if a previously held undocumented person commits a crime. GuyforPA / YouTube

The GOP-held Pennsylvania State Senate has passed a bill to strip funding from sanctuary cities and counties that refuse to enforce immigration orders from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

SB10, introduced by Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Jefferson Hills), would make such municipalities or counties liable for damages if a previously held undocumented person commits a crime.

The bill seeks to define “municipality of refuge,” or a city or county that releases an undocumented immigrant even when ICE has issued a detainer request for that person. GOP legislators in Michigan are mounting a similar anti-immigrant effort, though the lawmaker who proposed that legislation has not been able to answer basic questions about how the measure would work.

The measure passed on Tuesday in a 37-12 vote with state Sens. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh), John Yudichak (D-Carbon) and Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) voting with Republicans, BillyPenn.com reported.

The bill now goes to the state house, which has a 122-81 GOP majority.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has not indicated whether he would veto the bill, should it pass both chambers.

Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbott told Rewire in an email that the governor’s office was monitoring the “legislative process and federal government activity on the issue.”

Abbott said “we have concerns about this bill, including whether states may legally require that municipalities assist with the enforcement of federal law, as the federal government must enforce its own immigration policy. We also have concerns about the impact on citizens and families from the loss of federal and state funding if municipalities or counties don’t comply.”

Wolf recently issued a statement in support of Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s decision to file a lawsuit against Trump’s travel ban with 15 other state attorneys general.

Two-thirds of both chambers must vote to override a gubernatorial veto, which means the house would need several Democrats to vote with Republicans.

In a January memo to the Senate, Reschenthaler explained his reasons for the bill, saying he wanted to stop cities and counties that were trying to “thwart federal efforts to combat illegal immigration.” He argued that Kathryn Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco in 2015, would be still be alive if the city had honored the ICE detainer for the undocumented immigrant who allegedly killed her. A federal judge ruled in January that Steinle’s family can’t sue the city of San Francisco over its sanctuary city policy.

Reschenthaler said the legislation includes a “good-faith exception” for local officials who attempt to cooperate, but are unable to coordinate efforts to transfer the custody of the undocumented immigrant in question.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, which has panned the bill in a statement and memos this year, noted that the bill fails to define “injury to person or property.”

Following passage in the state senate, the ACLU said SB 10 would “strong-arm” counties and cities and create “a likelihood that counties will illegally hold people in jail as a result.”

The jurisdictions that don’t comply with SB 10 would miss out on receiving funds totaling $1.3 billion, BillyPenn.com reported.

State Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) introduced a similar bill in 2016 that only passed through the house.

White has plans to reintroduce the bill, though GOP lawmakers may make plans to discuss which version of the bill they should push through, BillyPenn.com reported.

Citing data from the Center for Immigration Studies and Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University Beasley School of Law, the ACLU of Pennsylvania said Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Lehigh were among the 17 counties that would be considered a “municipality of refuge” under SB 10.

Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and his successor Mayor Jim Kenney—who recently derided SB 10— have made the city a sanctuary jurisdiction in recent years.

In response to SB 10 and Trump’s executive order to withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke recently argued his colleagues should be more flexible on labeling the city a place of refuge.

“If there is still room for reasonable compromise with the federal government that preserves our ability to protect residents, including undocumented immigrants, and preserves critical funding for local policing and programs that help low-income people, then that to me is worth exploring,” Clarke said in a Facebook post.