In an effort to get Philadelphia law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration agents, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met with a group of immigrant advocates at City Hall Tuesday morning.
Under an executive order signed in January on his first day in office, Mayor Jim Kenney said the city would no longer hold undocumented immigrants at the request of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement or ICE “unless and until” the agency could convince the community of its intent to target those convicted of serious crimes for deportation.
Kenney’s order restored Philadelphia as a “sanctuary city” and reversed another signed by outgoing Mayor Michael Nutter in December. That order allowed Philadelphia law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants convicted of first- or second-degree felonies and slated to be released from custody — a policy in line with the federal “priority enforcement program,” also known as PEP.
In the round-table with immigrant advocates and Kenney staffers Tuesday morning, Johnson made his pitch for PEP. City Councilwomen Helen Gym and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez also attended.
Those in the room described the mood as tense, but respectful.
Johnson “said he and the administration have articulated they are only interested in detaining only people who have committed serious crimes and have been convicted,” said ACLU attorney Andy Hoover. “People in the community have been clear that’s not been their experience.”
Advocates such as Erika Almiron of the group Juntos fear ICE’s efforts will continue to sweep up undocumented, but otherwise law-abiding immigrants and force them to leave their families behind.
Almiron said, so far, she is “not convinced” the federal government would live up to its promise to target “felons not families” and hopes Kenney will not change his stance, even as his administration is under pressure from Johnson to comply with PEP.
The mayor said he is not making changes to the city’s current policy on immigration detainers.
“Unless we are convinced here in Philadelphia and in our immigrant community that this program is not unfair, we’re going to continue to be a sanctuary city,” said Kenney, noting this could be the first of more conversations to come between Homeland Security staffers and immigrant advocates.
Johnson left City Hall after the meeting without speaking to the press.