August 30, 2017
Today the City of Philadelphia has joined other cities and states around the country in filling a law suit against Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his department’s attempts to financially coerce local law enforcement agencies. In this instance, the Justice Department is threatening to withhold funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program from any cities they deem non-compliant with their immigration-related requests. This grant has sent an average of $2.2 million per year from the federal government to the Philadelphia over the past eleven years, and is used for local justice system priorities including upgrading courtroom technology, training for law enforcement, and alternative programming for low-level offenders.
Under AG Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department wants all local law enforcement to verify the immigration status of anyone they pick up, and to generally act as a deputized immigration enforcement agency. While cooperation between various law enforcement agencies may sound reasonable in principle, the fact is that this sort system-wide interference in local law enforcement on behalf of one particular federal law enforcement agency (ICE, in this case) is very unusual. For example, there are federal law enforcement agents tasked with finding and arresting tax cheats, but local police are not expected to check with the IRS to verify the tax compliance status of everyone they arrest. Doing so would be an enormous and unnecessary burden on local police.
Beyond that, when local police become deputized specifically in immigration enforcement, it places an enormous rift between police and the communities they serve. Witnesses to crimes become unwilling to come forward, as do victims. Police rely on community cooperation, and without it their actual jobs – keeping the community safe – become much harder. For that reason alone, municipalities across the nation have good reason to resist this federal interference, as Philadelphia has done here.
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