Luzerne County DA Salavantis joins call to end Philadelphia’s status as ‘sanctuary city’
WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis has joined with other district attorneys and sheriffs from across Pennsylvania, urging Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty to join the calls on Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to end his strict sanctuary policy and work with President Barack Obama in tracking dangerous criminals who are in the country illegally.
Salavantis and other law enforcement officials wrote to McGinty “about an urgent public safety matter.”
The letter addresses Kenney’s decision to reverse the city’s sanctuary policies. Philadelphia is the only “sanctuary city” in Pennsylvania.
The term sanctuary city is given to cities in the United States or Canada that have policies designed to not prosecute people solely for being illegal immigrants in the country where they reside.
Salavantis said she signed the letter because she feels the issue could affect Luzerne County.
“Yes, this could ultimately affect us,” Salavantis said. “I feel strongly, as a prosecutor, that the Number 1 issue should be public safety. So when Sen. (Pat) Toomey asked the new mayor of Philadelphia to re-implement these policies, I jumped on board.”
Salavantis and the others who signed the letter said former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter took steps “to correct some policies that weren’t beneficial to public safety.” But when Mayor Kenney took office, he re-instituted the policies that Salavantis said Nutter had suspended.
“It would benefit the entire state to be able to better track these violent offenders to assure they’re being handled appropriately,” Salavantis said. “From President Obama on down, officials have been urging Philadelphia to reconsider and re-institute the policies.”
Salavantis said she has discussed the rise in violent crime in Luzerne County with Toomey during his visits to the county. She said he has told her he will do what he can to help protect all citizens.
The letter Salavantis signed urges McGinty to petition Kenney to allow local law enforcement members in Philadelphia to work with federal immigration agents to identify violent criminals, gang members and suspected terrorists illegally living in Philadelphia.
“Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell oppose sanctuary cities and have called for greater cooperation between local and federal officials in order to protect Pennsylvania citizens,” the letter states. “As the top law enforcement officers for the counties in which we serve, we are very concerned about Mayor Kenney’s lack of cooperation with federal officials. Philadelphia is our state’s largest city and tourist destination. Millions of our constituents visit Philadelphia each year to take in the sights, catch a ballgame or see a show. Mayor Kenney’s sanctuary city policy threatens the security of all Pennsylvanians.”
The letter asks that “political difference” be put aside to “keep Pennsylvania safe.”
Toomey, McGinty differ on issue
As Toomey and McGinty go forward in their campaigns for the U.S. Senate seat, the issue of sanctuary cities has sparked the first battle since the April primary.
According to an Associated Press story, “Toomey injected immigration policies into his re-election campaign Monday, taking a shot at Philadelphia’s ‘sanctuary city’ status and his Democratic opponent, Katie McGinty, for supporting what he calls a dangerous and extreme practice.”
The AP story said Toomey’s attack on the refusal of the nation’s fifth-largest city to cooperate with federal immigration authorities brought a swift response from McGinty. Her campaign accused Toomey of lacking “moral authority” on the issue and of making the matter worse by opposing bipartisan immigration legislation in the U.S. Senate and embracing the “hateful” policies of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
Toomey has criticized Kenney’s four-month-old policy ordering city authorities not to comply with federal detainer requests unless they are supported by a judicial warrant and concern someone being released after a conviction for certain violent crimes.
“This is about common sense, and it’s about public safety and putting public safety ahead of political correctness or who knows what is motivating people to disagree with this policy,” Toomey said.
Toomey also pointed out he is in line with President Obama on the issue. Obama endorsed McGinty in the Democratic primary.
McGinty’s campaign said she does not believe sanctuary cities are “the solution.” However, her campaign issued a statement that said the federal government’s recent willingness to ease its “one-size-fits all” request in favor of working with sanctuary cities to identify violent criminals or offenders “is a reasonable request” McGinty supports.
The AP story said Kenney’s administration said evidence suggests that, until the federal government makes meaningful immigration policy changes, sanctuary cities are possibly safer than those that cooperate with immigration authorities because immigrants are not afraid to report crimes or otherwise cooperate with the police.
Toomey said he is confident the vast majority of city police officers do not think Philadelphia should be a sanctuary city. Besides, he said, he thinks immigrant communities would rather be safe from a potentially violent crime that could have been prevented had city authorities cooperated with federal immigration authorities.
The first piece of legislation — the Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act (H.R. 3002) — that U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, introduced in 2011 when he was elected to Congress would penalize sanctuary cities and strip them of all federal funding.
“The mayors of sanctuary cities give orders to law enforcement that they can’t ask someone’s immigration status, therefore they are not enforcing federal immigration laws,” Barletta said. “So these illegal immigrants are protected by these mayors who are violating federal law.”
Barletta’s legislation has not gone anywhere in the House, he said.
“That’s what it’s like in Washington — all talk and no action,” he said. “Sanctuary cities create a safe haven for illegal aliens to live where they are protected by the government against federal laws.”
Barletta said he read a recent report that showed some 20,000 criminal illegal aliens who were supposed to be deported when released were instead released back into society.
“I don’t think those cities should get one federal cent if they don’t enforce federal laws that protect people,” Barletta said. “No mayor has the right to declare his or her city a sanctuary city.”
Barletta cited the murder of 32-year-old Kate Steinle in San Francisco whose accused killer is a seven-time felon and an illegal immigrant.
Barletta has personal experience with tragedies involving the victims of illegal immigrants. When he was mayor of Hazleton in 2006, a local man, Derek Kichline, was murdered by an illegal immigrant who had been released in New York, another sanctuary city.
Barletta was also moved by meeting the parents of 20-year-old murder victim Carly Snyder, of Northumberland County, who was stabbed 37 times by an illegal immigrant from Honduras in 2005.
“Every life matters,” he said. “And I wonder how many more innocent people have to die before we recognize that sanctuary cities are safe havens for everybody but law-abiding citizens. It’s time to end the policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in cities that actively work for illegal immigrants, and against our immigration laws.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle. The Associated Press contributed to this story.