Philadelphia wins against US attorney general on immigration policy

City Hall, Philadelphia.
Photo credit Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio
By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The third circuit court of appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that Philadelphia's immigration policy is legal. The city can keep its "sanctuary city" policy on immigration and still receive federal grants. 

Philadelphia sued the U.S. Attorney General after the Justice Department tried to withhold a law enforcement grant on the basis that the city's policy of not aiding immigration authorities in certain cases violated the grant's conditions.

RELATED: Federal appeals court hears arguments over city's immigration policies

The three-judge panel upheld most of the District Judge Michael Baylson's ruling in the city's lawsuit against the Justice Department, ruling there was no authority to impose such conditions on the city. Writing for the panel, Judge Midge Rendell acknowledged the case was "complicated" by "the stark contrast in the priorities of the City and those of the Executive Branch regarding immigration policy."

She stressed the ruling was confined to the question of whether the Justice Department could require city co-operation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The judges pointedly noted they make no judgment on the policy dispute underlying the case.

@PhiladelphiaGov#SanctuaryCities policy is upheld by 3rd Circuit (some of lower court injunctive relief is vacated)

— Pat Loeb (@PatLoeb) February 15, 2019

The panel also ruled, however, that District Court Judge Michael Baylson went a step too far when he also ordered the Justice Department to provide a judicial warrant whenever it wanted to take custody of an illegal immigrant who was being held by the city. They reversed that part of the ruling. 

In an emailed statement, Mayor Jim Kenney said the ruling affirms the city's right to welcome all who seek safe haven. He took the opportunity to swipe at the president's national emergency declaration as, in his word, "bogus."

In response to the ruling, the Justice Department emailed the following statement to KYW Newsradio:

"The policies of sanctuary jurisdictions endanger communities and innocent Americans all across this country, and this decision does not change that simple fact. While we are pleased that the court vacated an overbroad portion of the district court’s injunction, we are disappointed with the ultimate outcome of the decision. We are closely evaluating this decision and considering our options."