A federal judge ruled in favor of the city of Philadelphia in a case against Attorney General Jeff Sessions arguing the Justice Department can't withhold law-enforcement grants from the city due to its status as a sanctuary city. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 15 (UPI) -- The federal government can't withhold law-enforcement grants from the city of Philadelphia due to its status as a "sanctuary city," a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson issued a 128-page ruling, stating a $1.5 million Department of Justice law enforcement grant can't be withheld from Philadelphia because the city refuses to fully cooperate with federal agents to identify and arrest people who immigrated without appropriate documents.
The city filed suit against Attorney General Jeff Sessions in August regarding the grant which accounts for a portion of the city's $4.4 billion budget.
Baylson ruled that withholding the grant would cause irreparable damage, as part of the funds are used by first responders who provide life-saving naloxone to victims of opioid overdose.
Baylson stated that Philadelphia should be able to "deal with local issues as it sees best," finding the city did comply with a federal law banning municipalities from restricting contact with ICE.
"Both the federal government and the city of Philadelphia have important interests at stake here and the court does not minimize either of their concerns," Baylson wrote. "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."
Philadelphia rejects the title of sanctuary city, which is defined as a city that limits its cooperation with federal authorities who enforce immigration law, stating immigrants who commit crimes are arrested and charged.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley said officials were reviewing the ruling and determining next steps, pointing out Philadelphia's high murder rate as an example of "sanctuary policies" undermining law enforcement.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross had previously testified most people who commit crimes in the city are natural-born Philadelphians and Baylson said the government hadn't been able to provide a link between the city's policies and crime.
"I don't know what [the homicide rate] has to do with immigrants," Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said after the ruling. "It has to do with the fact that the Second Amendment has run wild - if they want to blame someone for homicide in our society, they should look in the mirror, because they won't do anything about guns."
Kenney added he was grateful for the ruling but disappointed the city had to face the federal government in court.
"This is not a time for jubilation. I'm very grateful to the court, but I'm angry we have to fight our own federal government when we have problems we could be addressing together that [the Trump administration] refuses to address because it doesn't play to their base," he said.