To help you understand your rights and protections, the City of Philadelphia is creating action guides on federal policies. The action guides include facts, ways you can help, and other resources.

Philadelphia is a city of immigrants. America was founded on the belief that everyone is created equal—and every person means every person, no exceptions. Philadelphia treats immigrants as we would any other resident under our criminal justice system.

Learn more about Philadelphia's immigrant community, plus federal, state, and local policies that impact immigrants and the City of Philadelphia.

Know the facts

Why immigrants are important to Philadelphia

The economic impact of Philadelphia’s immigrant population helps the City grow revenue and create jobs. From 2000 – 2013, immigrants were responsible for 96% of the Main Street neighborhood business growth. Since 2000, immigrants are responsible for 75% of the workforce growth. Of the nearly one billion dollars in earnings generated by small business owners in Philadelphia, immigrant entrepreneurs are responsible for $295 million of those earnings.

Immigrants have played a significant role in Philadelphia’s population growth in recent years. Immigrants helped reverse fifty years of population loss, strengthening our city. In some Philadelphia neighborhoods, the influx of immigrants has prevented destabilizing blight, improved public schools, and helped spur growth in neighborhood commercial corridors.

More undocumented immigrants live in Philadelphia than in any of the largest Northeast American cities, except New York City. And many Philadelphia families live in mixed-status households, which means that some family members are documented, but their parents or siblings may not be.

What is a "Sanctuary City?"

There is no legal or uniform definition of what constitutes a “sanctuary city.” We do not use that term. We are a “Welcoming City.” We do not allow our City employees, including police officers, to ask about the documentation status of people they encounter. Research has shown, and most law enforcement leaders believe, that trust between officers and immigrant communities is essential to reducing crime and helping victims. Philadelphia works with our federal partners and does not stop ICE from arresting Philadelphians whom they believe are undocumented.

Philadelphia’s policies upholds our country’s shared values. America was founded on the belief that everyone is created equal — and every person means every person, no exceptions. Blaming an entire group of people for our country’s problems and violating their right to due process isn’t constitutional and it isn’t American. Philadelphia treats immigrants as we would all other residents.

Philadelphia’s policies uphold the Golden Rule. Immigrants move here for the promise of freedom and opportunity, often fleeing dangerous circumstances. If any one of us had to uproot our lives and our families to create a better future, we would want others to show us understanding and respect, not implement policies that tear our families apart. Treating others the way we wish to be treated applies in good times and bad. We must ensure the right of every family in America to live together, free from danger.

Philadelphia’s policies recognize that our strength is grounded in our ability to work together. Philadelphia has seen a resurgence as our immigrant population has grown. Decades of population decline have reversed, immigrant businesses are responsible for the majority of our Main Street neighborhood business growth, and crime is at a 40 year low. Philadelphia works best when we all do our part and work together. The City will resist any federal attempts to turn Philadelphians against one another and makes us weaker and less safe.

Philadelphia’s policies support and respect local and federal law enforcement, and help them do their jobs. The City has policies that respect the confidentiality of immigration information. We believe that policies that build trust and support between the City and immigrant communities are essential to reducing crime and helping victims. Such policies also lead to greater use of vital social services. Our police officers do not ask about the documentation status of those they encounter. But we do not overlook crime and we do investigate crime regardless of immigration status.

Philadelphia’s policies follow judicial orders. Philadelphia’s Prison System only responds to ICE requests to hold a detainee if ICE has a judicial, criminal warrant. We have this policy because federal courts have said it is unconstitutional for us to do otherwise. A city can’t hold someone without a legal basis. If all the city receives is a detainer with an administrative warrant from ICE, without a judicial warrant, it is unlawful for us to hold a person.

Federal funding and local immigration-related policies

The President’s Executive Order to defund so-called “sanctuary cities” was put on hold by a federal judge, Judge William H. Orrick. The Court said that the Executive Order is unconstitutional—for many reasons. Only Congress has the authority to create conditions for funding; the President can’t do it on his own.

Philadelphia and other cities were still required by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to certify that we comply with a provision related to federal law, 8 U.S.C. Section 1373, in order to receive certain federal criminal justice grants. On June 22, 2017, the City sent a letter to the DOJ certifying that our current policies are in compliance with Section 1373. Section 1373 says that a city may not prohibit its employees from sharing information to ICE about people’s immigration and citizenship status. Since law enforcement and other City officials generally are not permitted to collect immigration information from residents, there is no information to provide to ICE. Our policies do not prohibit information sharing with respect to criminal suspects, which is all that Section 1373 can lawfully be read to address.

Section 1373, or any other federal statute, does not actually require us to honor civil detainers, which are requests ICE sends to hold people. Detainers are not findings or evidence of probable cause that criminal conduct was committed. Section 1373 does not speak to detainers. And as Judge Orrick found, if the federal government tries to force cities to hold undocumented persons whenever ICE requests it, that is a type of coercion and commandeering of local officials that the Constitution prohibits.

For a particular type of 2017 grant for criminal justice law enforcement (Byrne Justice Assistance Grants or JAG), the Justice Department has insisted that we not only certify compliance with Section 1373, but also agree to two new conditions, one about access to our prisons for ICE and the other about providing advanced notice of the release date of individuals in our custody about which ICE is interested. These new conditions are getting even farther afield and a federal judge in Chicago has ruled, on a nationwide basis, that DOJ exceeded its authority by trying to add them to the JAG program.

Because the City does not believe DOJ has the authority to place any of these conditions on the JAG program, we filed a lawsuit in federal court in Philadelphia on August 30, 2017. Our legal claims are:

  1. That DOJ has no legal authority to attach these conditions to the JAG grants
  2. That under the federal Constitution, DOJ has violated a principle that when the federal government tries to coerce states and cities into action with federal funding, there must be a clear connection between the purposes of the grant funding and the policies it is trying to impose.
  3. That we comply with Section 1373, when it is read in a constitutional manner.

The City emphasized in our lawsuit the reasons for maintaining policies that keep our City employees out of the immigration enforcement business. To do the best job we can with criminal law enforcement and the provision of social services, like immunization and treatment for communicable diseases, all of our experts, including our Police Commissioner and our Health Commissioner, tell us (and testified in court) that it is critical to maintain cooperative relationships with our immigrant communities and that getting into immigration enforcement matters will harm those relationships and prevent us from doing our jobs.

After holding hearings where testimony was taken and lawyers for the City and the DOJ made arguments, United States District Court Judge Michael M. Baylson granted a preliminary injunction against the DOJ, meaning the court ruled in favor of the city and that DOJ could not deny the City JAG program funding on the basis of compliance with Section 1373. The Judge ruled that the City is in “substantial compliance” with Section 1373 because we cooperate with the federal government with respect to criminal suspects and the genuine federal interests in immigration enforcement are not impacted by the City’s confidentiality policies.

State funding and immigration-related policies

The Pennsylvania State Senate introduced and passed SB10 to seek to influence local policies regarding cooperation with ICE. The bill pushes cities to detain people at ICE’s request.

It’s unclear how the state could force Philadelphia to comply with detainer requests. Because we must follow the United States Constitution and can only respond to detainer requests to turn over a detainee to ICE if ICE has a judicial, criminal warrant, it is unclear the extent to which the state can force compliance with federal detainer requests as a condition of receiving state funding.

The bill does not clearly identify what state funding is at issue, therefore it is unclear the amount of state funding at stake. Last fiscal year, the City received a total of about $790 million from the state. Much of this funding that the City receives is for expenditures that we are required to make — for example for the protection of children in the child welfare system. Other large portions of this money are for reimbursement for carrying on duties the state wants and needs us to provide.

SB 10 is not just about Philadelphia. It’s detention requirements are so broad that it also jeopardizes state funding for a host of jurisdictions well beyond the 18 other ones that have openly stated that they will not cooperate with unconstitutional detentions. Cutting critical state funds for all such cities across the state would impact every Pennsylvanian.

The House introduced another bill, HB 28, to defund what it calls “sanctuary municipalities.” This bill is different in that it specifically inhibits cities from having policies protecting the confidentiality of immigration information. It also seeks to force police departments to become extensions of ICE. Such policy changes would erode the hard-won trust among police, social service agencies and immigrant communities.

Governor Wolf has not publicly committed to vetoing either of these bills. 

President Trump’s “Travel Ban” executive order

On September 24, 2017, President Trump issued his third travel ban (Travel Ban 3). Travel Ban 3 replaces the previous Executive Orders signed in March (Travel Ban 2) and January 2017 (Travel Ban 1). The third travel ban continues travel limitations with respect to five of the six countries covered by the Travel Ban 2 – Somalia, Syria, Libya, Iran and Yemen – and imposes new restrictions on three more – North Korea, Chad and Venezuela. Six of these countries have predominantly Muslim populations.

The current order bans nationals of Somalia, Syria, Libya, Iran and Yemen who lack a “bona fide relationship” with someone in the United States. There has been a lot of legal action around what a “bona fide relationship” means. Currently, a “bona fide relationship” includes a spouse, parent, parent-in-law, child, grandparent, grandchild, fiancé, sibling, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, or cousin of persons in the United States.

The third travel ban does not have a “sunset date,” meaning the new restrictions will remain in place indefinitely. In releasing the new order, President Trump cited threats to national security posed by letting the targeted countries’ citizens into the United States and noted that the restrictions will remain in effect until the governments of the affected nations “satisfactorily address the identified inadequacies.”

The third travel ban does not address refugees. Admission of refugees was temporarily suspended by the president’s March executive order (Travel Ban 2). On October 24thPresident Trump signed an executive order ending his 120-day ban on refugee admissions, while calling for a 90-day review of the program for 11 countries that his administration has deemed “high risk.”

On January 22, 2018, the President’s 90-day ban of refugees from 11 countries expired. This refugee program review included Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and stateless Palestinians. The administration has not indicated whether it will release a new ban or begin accepting refugees from these countries.

The travel ban does not apply to the following individuals:

  • Permanent residents.
  • Those who are admitted or paroled into the U.S. before the effective date of the order (September 24, 2017 or October 18, 2017).
  • Those with valid visas or those who have a document other than a visa – such as a transportation letter, appropriate boarding foil, or advance parole document –valid by the effective date of the order.
  • Dual nationals traveling using their passport from an unrestricted country.
  • Certain diplomatic visa holders.
  • Asylees already granted status as of the effective date of the order.
  • Those granted withholding of removal or protection under the Convention Against Torture.

The new ban created individual restrictions for each country. The new travel ban also differentiates between immigrants (who enter as legal permanent residents, or green card holders) and nonimmigrants (who enter for limited periods of time, for instance, as visitors or students). The restrictions for countries are as follows:

Chad, Libya, and Yemen

  • Immigrants: all suspended.
  • Nonimmigrants: B1/B2 business and tourist visitors suspended.
  • Effective Date (Chad): October 18, 2017.
  • Effective Date (Libya and Yemen): Effective immediately for individuals who lack a “bona fide relationship” with with a person or entity in the U.S.; effective October 18; 2017 for individuals with a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the U.S.
  • Immigrants: all suspended.
  • Nonimmigrants: generally suspended, except for student (F and M) and exchange visitor (J) visa holders may be admitted, subject to enhanced screening and vetting.

North Korea and Syria

  • Immigrants: all suspended.
  • Nonimmigrants: all suspended.
  • Effective Date (North Korea): October 18, 2017.
  • Effective Date (Syria): Effective immediately for individuals who lack a “bona fide relationship” with with a person or entity in the U.S.; effective October 18; 2017 for individuals with a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the U.S.


  • Certain government officials involved in screening and vetting procedures, and their immediate family members: suspended.
  • Immigrants: may be admitted, subject to appropriate additional measures to ensure traveler information remains current.
  • Nonimmigrants: may be admitted, subject to appropriate additional measures to ensure traveler information remains current.
  • Effective October 18, 2017.


  • Immigrants: all suspended.
  • Nonimmigrants: may be admitted, subject to additional scrutiny to determine if the applicant is connected to terrorist organizations or otherwise poses a threat to the national security or public safety of the U.S.
  • Effective immediately for individuals who lack a “bona fide relationship” with with a person or entity in the U.S.; effective October 18; 2017 for individuals with a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the U.S.


  • Sudan was named in the prior travel ban but has been removed. Immigrants and nonimmigrants may now be admitted.


The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments about the constitutionality of the prior travel ban (Travel Ban 2, issued March 6, 2017) on October 10, 2017.  On December 4, 2017, the Supreme Court issued an order that allows Travel Ban 3 to go into effect while legal challenges against it continue. The court’s order means that the administration can fully enforce its new restrictions on travel from eight nations, six of them predominantly Muslim. For now, most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea will be barred from entering the United States, along with some groups of people from Venezuela. The Supreme Court’s orders effectively overturned a compromise in place since June, when the court said travelers with connections to the United States could continue to travel here regardless of restrictions in an earlier version of the ban.

While the Trump administration claims the travel ban is needed for national security, it actually makes us all less safe. This order throws out decades of bipartisan progress on immigration and refugee policy made by both Republican and Democratic administrations without making us safer.

  • National security experts believe the ban weakens the nation’s security. Former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Madeleine Albright and eight other top national security officials filed a joint declaration to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in early February, arguing that the earlier version of the travel ban “cannot be justified on national security or foreign policy grounds,” disputing the notion that it meets its stated goal of keeping the nation safe from terrorists.
  • Terrorism threats have been less likely to come from citizens representing the targeted countries. According to testimony submitted to Congress by the RAND Corporation, of the 182 terrorists inspired by jihadist ideology who have attempted to carry out attacks in the United States since 1990, or on inbound flights, 101 were U.S. citizens and “few” were “recent arrivals.”
  • According to the Washington Post, several jihadist groups celebrated the first ban as proof that the United States is at War with Islam, a claim used for recruitment purposes.

This order weakens our national and local economy.

  • Locally, the Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau reports they have already lost one conference due to the first travel ban. The conference was estimated to have a $7 million impact on the economy.
  • Since the first ban was announced, searches for incoming flights to the U.S. from international locations has declined as much as 17%.
  • David Scowsill, the CEO of World Travel & Tourism Council, said the president’s approach to security could bring about a long-term slump in tourism.
  • Tourism is at an all-time high in the Philadelphia region – with 41 million visitors in 2015 spending $29 million every day, supporting 93,000 jobs and generating $612 million in city and state tax revenue. Fewer visitors would mean less business in our restaurants, hotels and attractions. In addition, it could mean fewer new residents, impacting neighborhoods that are anchored by creative and high-tech workers and universities that recruit students and faculty from overseas.

What is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)?

On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who announced the Trump administration decision, argued that DACA was an unlawful overreach by President Barack Obama and said he could not defend it.

The program was ended with a six-month delay intended to allow Congress to act before March 5, 2018.  Immigrant advocates are urging Congress to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would provide a permanent legislative solution to replace DACA. The DREAM Act would allow undocumented immigrants, who came to the U.S. as children, to live, study, and work in the U.S., while also creating a pathway to citizenship for them.

As of September 5, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security cut off all new applicationsThose whose DACA permits expired between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018, could have applied for a two year renewal before October 5, 2017.

January 9, 2018, a federal judge in California temporarily blocked the administration’s effort to end the DACA program. The order by U.S. District Judge William Alsup will protect immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while the legal challenge continues.

Alsup ruled that while the lawsuit is pending, anyone who had DACA status when the program was rescinded in September can renew it. If you previously received DACA and your DACA expired on or after Sept. 5, 2016, you may still file your DACA request as a renewal. USCIS is not accepting requests from individuals who have never before been granted deferred action under DACA. Get advice from a trusted legal advisor before submitting any DACA application.

DACA was an immigration option for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16. Although DACA did not provide a pathway to lawful permanent residency, it did provide temporary protection from deportation, allowed for work authorization, and the ability to apply for a social security number.

Over the last five years, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has changed the lives of nearly 800,000 young peopleBy providing the opportunity for people to come forward, pass rigorous background checks, and obtain permission to live and work in the United States lawfully, DACA has helped people pursue higher education, earn better wages to support their families, and buy homes.

To qualify for DACA, you needed to meet certain requirements. The requirements included:

  • You were under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012;
  • You first came to the United States before your 16th birthday;
  • You have lived continuously in the United States from June 15, 2007 until the present;
  • You are currently studying, or you graduated from high school or earned a certificate of completion of high school or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or military (technical and trade school completion also qualifies); and
  • You have NOT been convicted of a felony, certain significant misdemeanors (including a single DUI), or three or more misdemeanors of any kind.

If Congress does not act to renew DACA, nearly 800,000 young people will face the prospect of losing their ability work permit and be at risk of deportation.
This would be a huge loss of opportunity, skills, and talent for our country.

If you are a DACA recipient or a family members of a DACA recipient the City will continue to welcome and stand with you. Local organizations will provide safe places for families and DACA recipients to gather and gain more information. In Philadelphia those places are:

  • SEAMAAC- 1711 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19148; Phone(215) 467-0690
  • Aquinas Center- 1700 Fernon St, Philadelphia, PA 19145; Phone: (267) 928-4048
  • New Sanctuary Movement- 2601 Potter St, Philadelphia, PA 19125; Phone (215) 279-7060
  • Juntos- 600 Washington Ave, Unit 18UA, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Phone 215) 218-9079 (Spanish Speaking)
  • Please follow PICC on facebook at Pennsylvania Immigration & Citizenship Coalition (PICC) @PAImmigrant.

It is critical that Philadelphians contact their representatives and share your opinion on legislation that would impact our immigrant community. Education helps build bridges and showing support for Philadelphia's immigrants. Whether it is over email, on social media, or at a community meeting, help us get the facts to every Philadelphian.


Contact state legislators and Governor Wolf to express your concerns about state legislation to defund sanctuary cities.

Contact the U.S. Congress to express your support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) to replace the expired Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.

Write a letter to the editor.

Give back

Donate to an organization. Many refugee organizations are also facing defunding. Please consider contributing to a charitable organization that assists immigrants and refugees.

Volunteer for an organization. You can find a list of organizations who are looking for volunteers at the City’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service.

Support Philly’s refugee resettlement agencies. You can give your time, your money, or supplies to three local organizations through NeedsList.


Share this guide with your friends and neighbors. Let people know the facts on immigration and how they can take action to support our immigrant community. The City has also compiled a list of local resources for our refugee and immigrant residents.