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Bills Introduced in General Assembly Targeting Sanctuary Jurisdictions

February 22, 2017

By Tim Horstmann

A pair of bills has been introduced in the PA House of Representatives and State Senate that would deny state grants and other benefits to “sanctuary jurisdiction” municipalities, colleges and universities.

“Sanctuary Jurisdictions” have been in the news a lot lately, following the issuance on January 25th of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on the topic. Under that Order, any state or local jurisdiction branded a “Sanctuary Jurisdiction” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is at risk of losing federal funds.

In addition to worrying about Trump’s “Sanctuary Jurisdiction” Executive Order, Pennsylvania municipalities providing “sanctuary” to illegal immigrants should be aware of the introduction in the State Senate of Senate Bill 10. This bill would prohibit any “municipality of refuge” or its law enforcement agency from receiving any state grant, or participating in the sale of state surplus property. Additionally, affected municipalities could be sued for damages (personal injury or property damage) by victims of illegal immigrants that had been arrested by the municipality, but released despite the existence of an ICE detainer request.

Senate Bill 10 defines a “municipality of refuge” as any municipality that “permits, requires or requests” the release of an individual in the custody of local law enforcement, notwithstanding the existence of an ICE detainer request. The term “municipality” is defined very broadly to mean “any county, city, borough, incorporated town, township, home rule municipality, optional plan municipality, optional charter municipality or any similar general purpose unit of government which may be created or authorized by statute.”

Senate Bill 10 was introduced by Senator Guy Reschenthaler on January 20, 2017. The Senate acted quickly on the bill following its initial referral to the Local Government Committee on January 20th, and passed it by a vote of 37-12 on February 7th. It is now in the House, before the Judiciary Committee. It is unclear whether the House will act on it. Should the House pass Senate Bill 10, however, the bill would likely be at high risk of veto by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, although the Governor has not yet taken an official position on the bill.

Pennsylvania municipalities are not the only entities that should be watching the Assembly. A similar bill was introduced in the PA House, House Bill 14, which targets colleges, universities, and similar institutions of higher education. Under House Bill 14, any institution determined to be a “sanctuary campus” would be at risk of losing state funds. An institution would be a “sanctuary campus” if it adopted any rule, order or policy doing any of the following:

  • Prohibiting the enforcement of a federal or Pennsylvania law pertaining to immigration;
  • Refusing access by federal authorities to campus;
  • Directing employees of the institution not to communicate, coordinate or cooperate with federal authorities regarding an individual’s immigration status; or
  • Applying an adverse employment action against any employee for communicating, coordinating or cooperating with federal authorities regarding an immigration issue.

An institution determined to be a “sanctuary campus” under House Bill 14 would no longer be eligible for funding through a state appropriation. House Bill 14 was introduced by Representative Jerry Knowles on January 23, 2017, and referred to the State Government Committee. No action has been taken on the bill to date. Like Senate Bill 10, however, it seems fairly likely that if passed by the House and Senate, Governor Wolf would veto it.

Pennsylvania municipalities, colleges and universities affected by Senate Bill 10 or House Bill 14 should monitor these bills’ status. While it seems unlikely that either bill would be signed into law by Governor Wolf should they be passed, their introduction suggests that these issues may be a topic of debate in the current legislative session, and might appear in future legislative sessions.