Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sanctuary Cities Bill Clears Pennsylvania Senate

Matt Rourke
AP Photo


The Municipal Sanctuary and Federal Enforcement, or SAFE, Act would restrict state funding for communities where law enforcement agencies don't cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The bill would require municipalities to prove they're complying with the law  when submitting applications for certain state grants, loans and economic development and other programs.

More than$1.3 billion could be affected,according to estimates from legislation sponsors.

Compliance, under this proposal, means law enforcement agencies communicate with ICE about people in custody, and hold anyone with a detainer. A detainer is a written request from ICE that a local jail or other law enforcement agency detain an individual for an additional 48 hours beyond local law enforcement custody, in order to provide ICE agents extra time to decide whether to take the individual into federal custody.

State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Washington, is the prime sponsor of the bill. He responded to supporters of sanctuary cities who say promising not to turn over individuals to ICE helps undocumented immigrants feel that they can trust police, and so they will be more likely to report crimes.

"This only pertains to undocumented immigrants who are in police custody pursuant to a lawful arrest," Reschenthaler says. "Victims, witnesses and individuals reporting crimes — they're not affected."

Reschenthaler cites horrific crimes committed by people living in the United States illegally after being released from police custody.

Majority leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, described a common courtesy of sorts: cooperation with ICE as with any other law enforcement agency.

"If someone was arrested on drug charges and the [district attorney] had a flag on this person, we would probably cooperate, and say, 'Hey, you know, we got this guy or a woman.' And ... they would know [we have them] and I think that's all we're asking here," Corman said.

But opponents say the measure presents a lot of risks: police profiling, trampling on residents' rights to due process, and taxpayer liability for improper detentions.

"If the opportunity to save a life is there, then this body should take it very seriously," said state Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia. "But if that is the course that we are going to take, ... before today, there have been many bills that if they were enacted, not one, but hundreds of lives would most likely have been saved."

Farnese went on to provide the example of stricter gun regulations that are proposed and "never even get the chance to be debated."

The measure passed out of the Senate Tuesday after more than an hour of debate,  with a 37-12 vote, almost exactly along party lines (Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh/Northampton, and John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, were the sole Democratic supporters).

It now goes to the House.

Asked about veto potential, Gov. Tom Wolf's spokesman J.J. Abbot said via email:

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.

Emily Previti is WITF's reporter for Keystone Crossroads, a statewide public media collaboration focused on issues facing Pennsylvania's cities.