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State Senate Passes Bill to Punish PA Sanctuary Cities

The ACLU says it has seen cases in which U.S. citizens have been held in Pennsylvania jails on erroneous ICE detainers. (Neil Conway/Flickr)
The ACLU says it has seen cases in which U.S. citizens have been held in Pennsylvania jails on erroneous ICE detainers. (Neil Conway/Flickr)
February 10, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A bill that has passed in the state Senate would penalize sanctuary cities and counties in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 10 would withhold state money from municipalities that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities. According to Sara Rose, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, that could put places in a double bind for not complying with federal requests to hold a person in detention for possible immigration proceedings.

"If county jails hold people under these ICE detainers and it turns out that there's no probable cause to believe that the person is in the country without authorization," she said, "the county can be liable for damages to the person who's being held."

SB 10 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. Proponents of the legislation say it is about upholding the rule of law, but Rose pointed out that ICE detainers are only administrative requests and are not reviewed by a judge. She said the detainers often are issued by ICE field agents based solely on suspicion that a person may not have authorization to be in the country.

"In fact, we've had two cases here, just in Pennsylvania," she said, "on behalf of U.S. citizens who were held in jail on immigration detainers that had been issued erroneously."

Nineteen jurisdictions in Pennsylvania have announced their intentions to not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. If the bill becomes law, Rose said, the ACLU would look for ways to challenge it in court.

"We think it sets a dangerous precedent," she said, "and can really cause problems for municipalities and their relationship with immigrant communities."

Gov. Tom Wolf's office has expressed concerns about the legality of some aspects of the legislation.

The text of SB 10 is online at legis.state.pa.us.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA