Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross made two points clear during 90 minutes of testimony Thursday: The city’s police department is not an arm of federal immigration enforcement, and it does not intend to start behaving that way. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Ross was the first witness called in U.S. District Court in the city’s lawsuit against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, lodged over the Trump administration’s attempt to withhold grant money from “sanctuary cities.” The commissioner testified that Philadelphia police arrest people who commit crimes without regard for their citizenship status. A criminal is a criminal, he said. At the same time, the department depends on information and help from law-abiding citizens, he said, and part of that trust is built on the fact that police do not routinely collect and store data on whether individuals are in this country illegally.
“There’s no way in the world you’d want to come forward as a source of information or criminal activity if you learned you would be deported,” Ross said. President Trump and Sessions have argued that sanctuary city policies allow dangerous criminals to be released when they should be returned to their homelands. Philadelphia filed its suit in August. Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and California also are going to court over the new restrictions on a federal grant that supports police training and overtime. The lawsuits accuse the president and attorney general of withholding the money as a cudgel to make cities enforce federal immigration laws. Last year, Philadelphia received $1.67 million. No immediate ruling was expected in the case, with further testimony scheduled for next week.