PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions again singled out Philadelphia on Friday as an increasingly violent city made more dangerous by immigrants living in the country illegally, setting up a showdown with the nation's top law enforcement official in a so-called sanctuary city.
In an address to federal prosecutors, Sessions pleaded with local law enforcement to "reconsider carefully the harm they are doing to their residents" through policies he said "are giving sanctuary not to law-abiding citizens in our communities, but to criminals."
"If we're going to stop the rise of violent crime, let's work together," Sessions said, adding that if people who come to America illegally "commit a crime while they're in here, my goodness, what right do they have to demand that they not be deported?"
Sessions spoke to federal prosecutors and local law enforcement officials for about 20 minutes, addressing violent crime, immigration and the opioid crisis.
In a letter sent to the Justice Department last month, Philadelphia officials said the city is adhering to the law, even while refusing to collect information on residents' immigration status. According to the city's policy on the issue, the prison system "only responds to detainer requests to turn over a detainee to Immigration and Customs Enforcement if the agency has a judicial, criminal warrant."
Philadelphia is among several cities nationwide that have vowed to maintain their "sanctuary city" status. Police Commissioner Richard Ross — who was present for Sessions' remarks and met briefly with the attorney general before his address — said he does not think local law enforcement "belongs in the immigration business."
"As it relates to violent crime, our problems are not people from other countries," Ross said. "Our problem is the young men here who are hopeless about a lot of things."
Ross referred to Philadelphia instead as a "welcoming city" and said Sessions' approach could have a chilling effect on efforts to encourage immigrants to report crimes.
President Donald Trump has tried to cut funding from cities that limit cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities. A federal judge last week said he's not likely to reinstate Trump's executive order to cut funding from cities that limit cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities.
Sessions' trip came on the heels of a New York Times interview published this week in which the president expressed frustration with Sessions for recusing himself from the FBI probe into Russian election tampering. Sessions did not take questions from reporters after making his remarks.
Errin Haines Whack covers urban affairs. Follow her work on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/emarvelous