Immigration & Sanctuary Cities: City of Philadelphia Action Guide

by Office of Immigrant Affairs, Office of the Mayor

As the Trump Administration continues to enact policies at odds with many Philadelphians’ beliefs, we understand the frustration or anger many of you are feeling. One of the most important things you can do is turn that anger into action: talk to your friends or neighbors, volunteer your time with a local community group, or donate to one of the many organizations that stands up for our residents.

To help you take action, the City put together guides that include quick facts, ways you can help, and other resources.

Here’s our action guide, on immigration and “sanctuary cities.”

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.

Quick Facts: Why Immigrants Are Important To Philadelphia

1. More undocumented immigrants live in Philadelphia than in any of the largest Northeast American cities, except New York City, according to research conducted by the Pew Research CenterAnd many of our families are mixed, which means that some family members are documented, but their parents or siblings may not be.

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

3. The economic impact of Philadelphia’s immigrant population is significant as the city looks to both grow revenue and create jobs. From 2000 – 2013, immigrants were responsible for 96% of the Main Street neighborhood business growth. The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Roadmap for Growth reported that 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 the City of Philadelphia, immigrant entrepreneurs are responsible for $770 million, or 72%, of those earnings, according to the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.  

Quick Facts: What Is A “Sanctuary City?”

1. There is no legal or uniform definition of what constitutes a “sanctuary city.” There is also a lot of misinformation about what cities like Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans, Chicago and others do with regards to law enforcement and immigrants.  Philadelphia works with our federal partners on anti-terrorism and drug trafficking task forces, and we also do not stop ICE from arresting Philadelphians whom they believe are undocumented. We require that our police officers do not ask about the documentation status of people they encounter. We have this policy because research has shown and most law enforcement leaders, like the Major Cities Chiefs Association, believe that trust between officers and immigrant communities is essential to reducing crime and helping victims.

2. 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 any other resident under our criminal justice system.

3. 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.

4. Philadelphia’s policies recognize that our strength is grounded in our ability to work together. Philadelphia has seen a resurgence as our immigration 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, which is why city law enforcement does work with our federal partners to fight drug trafficking and prevent terrorism. But Philadelphia will resist any federal order that attempts to turn Philadelphians against one another and makes us weaker and less safe. 

5. Philadelphia’s policies support and respect local and federal law enforcement, and helps them do their jobs. Philadelphia works with our federal partners on anti-terrorism and drug trafficking task forces, and we also do not stop ICE from arresting Philadelphians whom they believe are undocumented. The Major Cities Chiefs Association supports “sanctuary cities” because they believe that cities that aim to build trusting and supportive relations with immigrant communities should not be punished because this is essential to reducing crime and helping victims, and the research backs them up. Accordingly, our police officers do not ask about the documentation status of those they encounter.

6. Philadelphia’s policies follows judicial orders. Philadelphia’s Prison System only responds to detainer requests to turn over a detainee to ICE, if ICE has a judicial, criminal warrant. We have this policy because federal courts have said it is unconstitutional for us to do so otherwise. We won’t comply if it is supported only by an “administrative” warrant.  An administrative warrant is a more formal way for ICE to say, “please hold onto the person because we want you to.” A City can’t just hold someone without a legal basis. If all we receive is an administrative request from ICE, without a judicial warrant, it is unlawful for us to hold them based on that piece of paper alone. 

Quick Facts: Federal Funding and Sanctuary Cities

1. The President’s Executive Order to defund 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. First, only Congress has the authority to create conditions for funding; the President can’t do it on their own.

2. Even though the President’s Executive Order was put on hold, Philadelphia and other cities are still being asked by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to certify that we comply with a provision related to federal immigration law, 8 U.S.C. Section 1373, in order to receive certain federal grants.  On June 22, the City sent a letter to DOJ certifying  that we comply with Section 1373 under our current policies. Section 1373 says that a city may not prohibit its employees from sending information to ICE about people’s immigration status. Since Philadelphia law enforcement and other City officials generally are not permitted to collect immigration information from our residents, there is no information to provide to ICE. Moreover, our policies do not prohibit information sharing with respect to criminal suspects, which is all that Section 1373 can lawfully be read to address.

3. 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 Tenth Amendment forbids.

4. Under the law, the federal government is limited in how it can use its spending power to force changes in state and local policies. We believe that the funding that is most at risk is for law enforcement because under the law there has to be some connection between the funds that the federal government is seeking to cut and the policy being complained about. However, the President’s Executive Order on defunding so-called “sanctuary cities” makes clear that the federal government would use its discretion and that they would be cautious about cutting law enforcement funding.

Quick Facts: State Funding and Sanctuary Cities

1. The Pennsylvania State Senate introduced and passed SB10 to “defund sanctuary cities.” 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.

2. SB 10 is not just about Philadelphia. It defines sanctuary cities so broadly that it also jeopardizes state funding for a host of jurisdictions well beyond the 18 other ones that have been identified as sanctuary cities. Cutting critical state funds for all sanctuary cities and other jurisdictions across the state would impact every Pennsylvanian.  

3. The House introduced another bill, HB 28, to defund sanctuary cities. This bill is different in that it specifically inhibits the cities from having police non-disclosure policies. This could force police departments to become extensions of ICE, and erode the hard-won trust between police and immigrant communities.   

4. It’s unclear how the state could force Philadelphia to comply with detainer requests. Because we must follow the United States Constitution and 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.   

5. Governor Wolf has not publicly committed to vetoing either of these bills. So we encourage concerned residents to call his office and tell him it’s important to you.


Quick Facts: President Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Executive Order

1. On March 6, President Trump signed a new Executive Order banning entry to the United States by certain persons. This ban replaces a previous Executive Order issued January 27, which was struck down by multiple courts across the country and which the Trump administration conceded that it would rescind due to multiple legal issues with the order.

2. On Wednesday, March 29, 2017, U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson granted a motion to convert his March 15 temporary restraining order blocking Trump’s revised executive order into a preliminary injunction.  The Government appealed that ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Last Monday, June 12, a 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit unanimously affirmed Judge Watson’s ruling in large part, holding that the Executive Order violated federal immigration laws by banning the entry of nationals of six Muslim-majority countries; suspending the entry of all refugees; and slashing the total size of the refugee program by tens of thousands.  The Government is now asking the Supreme Court to review that decision.  The Government is also asking the Supreme Court to review a decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in Richmond, Virginia, where the court decided by a vote of 10 to 3 that the Executive Order is unlawful because it discriminates on the basis of religion, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.  Several of the 4th Circuit judges also concluded that the Executive Order violated federal immigration laws.

3. The revised Executive Order is similar to the President’s previous Executive Order because it:

  • Bans travelers from six Muslim-majority countries—Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen—for 90 days. Unlike the first Executive Order, this order no longer includes Iraq.
  • Suspends the entire refugee resettlement program for 120 days.
  • Reduces the number of refugees the United States welcomes from 110,000 to 50,000, a drastic reduction at a time when large parts of the world continue to suffer from a significant refugee crisis.
  • Mandates review and additional security vetting procedures for refugees, immigrants and non-immigrants.

4. Some changes have been made to the Executive Order in an attempt to make the order more legally defensible and politically palatable. Unfortunately, none of these changes address the inherent discriminatory nature of the ban. The changes include:

  • The revised order no longer includes the indefinite suspension of the arrival of Syrian refugees; or the explicit preference for refugees who are religious minorities facing religious persecution.
  • The new Executive Order includes exemptions for certain categories of people, including: Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs/green card holders); Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients who worked with the U.S. military in Iraq or Afghanistan; and dual-nationals of the six designated countries (Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) who are traveling on a passport issued by a non-designated country.
  • Allows for waivers to be requested by individuals from the six designated countries after the travel ban goes into effect. The Executive Order gives some examples of when a waiver would be granted to an individual.

5. While the Trump administration claims this order 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.

6. This order weakens our national and local economy.

Get Involved: Immigrant Action Guide

1. Contact state legislators and Governor Wolf to express your concerns about state legislation to defund sanctuary cities. Pennsylvania’s State Senate recently passed SB10, a bill which would attempt to withhold all state grants from Pennsylvania’s 19 sanctuary jurisdictions. Philadelphia could be pushed to either violate the constitution or lose significant funding if this bill is passed by the House and signed by the Governor. So, please call the Governor and Democratic state house members and let them know that the way to resolve policy disagreements is not to attempt to defund entire municipalities.

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

3. Volunteer for an organization. The Bar Association is organizing Take Action Philly, a gathering of the legal community to make sure we’re effectively marshaling all our legal resources in support of the immigrant community, and the city is supporting them in that efforts. You can also find a list of organizations who are looking for volunteers over on the City’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service. 

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

5. The City has also compiled a list of local resources for our refugee and immigrant residents here. If you need help navigating any of these resources, or you think your organization should be listed here too, please contact the Office of Immigrant Affairs. We are always available to serve you.