Published on:

Philadelphia Mayor Changes City Policy on Detained Immigrants

prison-482619_640Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter recently changed his policy on the kind of information the city shares with federal authorities on detained immigrants. The policy change, however, will last only for two weeks, what with Mayor-elect Jim Kenney promising to reverse the change immediately after being sworn into office on January 4. A spokesperson from the Kenney camp says the Mayor-elect decision hasn’t changed, this after discussing the policy change for more than six weeks.

Mayor Nutter changed an executive order issued in 2014, which prohibited the Philadelphia Police Department and prison system from abiding with requests from the Federal Government to hold undocumented immigrants who would otherwise have been released pending trial or after serving sentences.

If asked, the city will now comply with requests from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) to provide information on immigrants and their date of release on the following conditions:

  • The federal government has determined that an undocumented immigrant has engaged or is suspected of espionage or terrorism
  • The immigrant was convicted for being part of a “criminal street gang”
  • The immigrant was convicted for a first-degree felony involving drug charges, illegal possession of a firearm, or violence

As with Nutter 2014 executive order, the city will only hold immigrants after the ICE has obtained a federal detention order.

Puzzling Reversal

The change is especially unfortunate, given how Mayor Nutter won praise from immigration activists in 2014 for making Philadelphia a “sanctuary city,” refusing to follow ICE hold orders, which mandated that immigrants be detained without an order from a federal judge.

Mayor-elect Kenney was then a member of the City Council and a supporter of immigration-aid groups, pushing Nutter to make the executive order.

At a City Hall news conference attended by disgruntled immigrant activists and reporters, Mayor Nutter emphasized how the policy change was a narrow adjustment made as a promise to President Obama Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson, who requested the mayor review his executive order.

Secretary Johnson voiced his support for Nutter’s policy change, releasing a statement that said it was “good for the public safety” and was important to “prevent dangerous, removable criminals from being released to the streets.”

Reaction from Immigration Activists

Supporters of immigrant groups, however, say that the new federal program differs little from the old one. Erika Almiron, director of Juntos, a Philadelphia-based group serving Latino immigrants, expressed confusion over how Nutter could see anything new in the dragnet program that indiscriminately affects the local community. Almiron also asked Nutter what he had to gain with the reversal, having only two weeks left as mayor.

The mayor again said it was about keeping a promise to the White House.

To learn more about how such policy changes affect you or anyone you know facing the same issue, please get in touch with the immigration lawyers of Lyttle Law Firm. Learn about your rights by calling our offices at 512-215-5225 or by visiting our website.