Philadelphia council president at odds with the mayor over sanctuary city status

City Council President Darrell Clarke. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

City Council President Darrell Clarke. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Despite threats from President Trump to cut off federal funds to so-called “sanctuary cities,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Philadelphia is not budging on its policy to protect undocumented immigrants.

Not everyone in City Hall agrees.

On Thursday, City Council President Darrell Clarke signaled he is open to making changes to Phialdelphia’s policy to spare the city from punishment down the road. 

It’s not yet clear exactly how much money Philadelphia could stand to lose if Trump follows through on his threat — the executive order the president signed last week promised only to strip federal dollars from sanctuary cities, but did not define the term or name a specific funding source he’d seek to cut.

However, Clarke is already in favor of taking steps to avoid financial repercussions for the city. 

“There have been a couple of compromises discussed or offered throughout this conversation,” he said. “I’d like to come to a reasonable approach, to having meaningful, constitutional language that will not affect our fiscal situation in a negative way.”

Although Clarke did not specify what compromises he would like to make, nor whether he supports Philadephia’s sanctuary city policy as it stands today. 

“I guess that depends on the interpretation of ‘sanctuary city,'” he said. “I support the Constitution.”

When pressed by reporters on whether he backs the executive order Kenney signed his first day in office last year, Clarke said, “I would like for us to have that conversation” and noted the policy was set by the mayor, not by City Council. 

Kenney’s executive order bars local law enforcement and corrections officers from cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents unless they present a warrant.

Clarke’s feelings on the subject apparently came as a surprise to the mayor. 

Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for the mayor, pointed to a resolution supported by Clark and passed by City Council last September “commending Mayor Kenney’s support and affirmation of Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city for immigrants and our city’s continued support for our immigrant population whom we are privileged to have as part of our community.” The single “no” vote was Republican Councilman Brian O’Neill. 

“An attack on one Philadelphian is an attack on all of us,” Hitt said in a statement. “We must stand together in the face of hate.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.