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 first action guide, on immigration and sanctuary cities.

Philadelphia’s sanctuary city policy has made us more safe, not less.

We are at the lowest crime rate we’ve had in 40 years, in no small part because of all our police department has done to strengthen police-community relations. If members of our immigrant community are afraid to cooperate with the Philadelphia Police Department when they are a victim of or a witness to a crime, then it’s likely that many crimes will go unsolved.

Defunding entire cities is not the right way to resolve what is a policy dispute.

There are those who disagree with the sanctuary city policy, but we should all be able to agree that attempting to defund entire municipalities is not the way to settle a policy disagreement. And that’s what this is: a policy disagreement, not a legal one. Detainer requests are just that: requests and we are violating no laws by not complying with them. In fact, a federal judge has ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests are unconstitutional, and many localities have had to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits for complying with ICE detainer requests that mistakenly identified Americans as illegal immigrants.

Philadelphia is not alone and this is not just an urban issue — it impacts rural and suburban communities too.

Hundreds of localities nationwide, including 18 rural and suburban counties in Pennsylvania, have been forced to adopt sanctuary city policies as a result of our broken national immigration system and the significant financial burden of cooperation. This includes rural counties like Westmoreland, Lycoming, and Pike and cities like York and Erie (among many others). They all have this policy because of the significant financial burden, operational challenges, and legal complications that would come with cooperation. Keeping detainees beyond their release dates costs hundreds of dollars a day. The policy can also put the city at risk for damages. Pennsylvania’s Lehigh County was successfully sued for nearly $100,000 in damages after ICE incorrectly identified a man and asked the county to hold him.

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 Center.

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 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 small 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  

4. When local law enforcement focuses on keeping communities safe, rather than becoming entangled in federal immigration enforcement efforts, communities are safer and community members stay more engaged in the local economy.  There are, on average, 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties. The labor force participation rate is 2.5% higher in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties.

Quick Facts: What Is A “Sanctuary City?”

1. The term is loosely applied — there is no legal or uniform definition of what constitutes a sanctuary city. In Philadelphia, we cooperate fully with all law enforcement agencies, including federal agencies, in connection with criminal investigations and apprehension of those accused of crimes. We also do not stop ICE from arresting Philadelphians whom they believe are undocumented. We do require that our police officers not ask about the documentation status of those they encounter. We only allow our Prison System to comply with ICE’s requests to turn over a detainee if they have a federal warrant.

2. Sanctuary cities are safer than non-sanctuary cities. We need it to keep crime low and our city safe. Philadelphia is at the lowest crime rate we’ve had in 40 years, in no small part because of all our police department has done to strengthen police-community relations. If we are forced to reverse this policy, that trust will be jeopardized and immigrants will become very unlikely to report crimes, even when they’re victims, or act as witnesses. Witnesses are critical — far too many crimes go unsolved because people who see the crime committed are simply too afraid to speak up.

3. Sanctuary cities do comply with federal authorities. Despite opponents’ claims, it’s simply not true that this policy is an insurmountable roadblock for the federal government. If the federal government obtains a warrant for an individual and asks us to hold them for a limited period of time, we will comply.       

4. Sanctuary cities uphold the Constitution. What ICE asks us to do is to hold someone for 48 hours against their will, often after a judge has already ordered their release, without a warrant or criminal charges. Several courts have already ruled that this is a violation of the 4th Amendment. If Philadelphia complies with these detainer requests, we can be held liable and have to pay damages for civil rights violations. Lehigh County had to pay nearly $100,000 for honoring an ICE detainer for someone ICE wrongly believed was undocumented.  Even if our city isn’t sued, holding individuals past their release date comes at significant cost and operational burden.

5. Sanctuary city laws do not allow dangerous criminals to evade ICE officials and re-offend. Thanks to lax sentencing laws, it is true that sex offenders are often not incarcerated for nearly as long as they deserve. If the General Assembly wishes to change that, then they should alter sentencing laws, which they have previously refused to do. But trying to fix that very specific problem by targeting all immigrants, most of which have committed no crime, makes no sense.  

6. ICE has the power to keep dangerous undocumented individuals from being released as long as they have a warrant. All they need to do is obtain a warrant — the same requirement made of every other law enforcement agency in the country — and Philadelphia will honor that warrant.

7. Law enforcement organizations that value police-community relations support sanctuary cities.  The International Association of Police Chiefs believes that the issue of state, tribal, or local law enforcement’s participation in immigration enforcement is an inherently local decision that must be made by law enforcement executives, working with their elected officials, community leaders, and citizens. 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.

8. There are also negative financial, operational, and social impacts in straying from Philadelphia’s current policy. The RAND Center on Quality Policing noted some of the impacts on jurisdictions that had close partnerships with ICE and strayed from community policing concepts, such as cultural education, trust building through communication, and leveraging partnerships with third parties:

  • Maricopa County (Ariz.) entered into a close partnership with ICE in 2010. They quickly ramped up a program under which deputies arrested 3,600 out-of-status immigrants and identified 31,000 deportable immigrants in the Maricopa County jail facilities to turn over to ICE for removal. However, this program racked up a $1.3 million debt in only three months. The clearance rate dropped dramatically from 10.5% of investigations cleared by arrest in 2005 down to 2.5% in 2007. Response time grew substantially, patrol cars were late two-thirds of the time for the most serious calls for service, and charges/lawsuits of racial profiling were filed.
  • Prince George’s County, Maryland, also had a close partnership with ICE, implementing a policy that was projected to cost around $14.2 million. In the first six months, the county questioned 626 suspected illegal immigrants, with only 2% of those charged with a crime. According to residents, a climate of fear and mistrust was created within the immigrant community—both legal and illegal—as well as among the citizenry overall.  Within months of implementation, the county jail was overflowing with detainees awaiting deportation.  Satisfaction with the police within the Hispanic community dropped 25% after the adoption of this anti–illegal-immigrant policy. Prince George County subsequently ended its partnership with ICE in 2014.

Quick Facts: President Trump’s Executive Order on Sanctuary Cities

1. The President’s Executive Order on Sanctuary Cities does not identify any actual funding sources to cut off. The President lacks the authority to do that, and also did not identify specific funding streams.  

2. Congress ultimately determines the conditions on funding it provides.  Even Senator Toomey has admitted that the President would ultimately need authority from Congress to “defund sanctuary cities.”

3. 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 nexus between the funds that the federal government is seeking to cut and the policy being complained about.  The Executive Order makes clear that the federal government would use its discretion and that they would be cautious about cutting law enforcement funding. The Trump administration has already said that it is unwilling to cut some law enforcement funding, even for sanctuary cities — so we are not likely to face losing all of our federal funding as a result of our sanctuary city policy.

4. There is no legal or uniform definition of what constitutes a sanctuary city. In Philadelphia, we cooperate fully with all law enforcement agencies, including federal agencies, in connection with criminal investigations and apprehension of those accused of crimes. We also do not stop ICE from arresting Philadelphians that they believe are here illegally. We do require that our police officers not ask about the documentation status of those they encounter. We only allow our Prison System to comply with ICE’s requests to turn over a detainee if they have a federal warrant.

5. President Trump has repealed the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) and replaced it with a Secure Communities. Secure Communities is a program that the Obama Administration found was not successful in identifying dangerous undocumented immigrants and severely broke community-law enforcement trust. The Obama Administration considered cities whose participated in Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) to be compliant with ICE, and while never participating, the Kenney Administration considered PEP and even invited Secretary Johnson to make his case for the program to City Councilmembers and the immigrant community. Ultimately, the Kenney Administration decided PEP would not make Philadelphia safer.

Quick Facts: State Republicans’ Bill (SB10) Defunding Sanctuary Cities

1. The bill does not identify what state funding is at issue, therefore it is unclear the amount of state funding at stake. In fact, much of the state 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. Last fiscal year, the City received a total of about $790 million from the state. The state bill applies to all state grant funding. It’s unclear what falls under that category at this time. Large portions of this money are for reimbursement for carrying on duties the state wants and needs us to provide. This bill 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.

2. It’s unclear how the state would apply this law. Because we must comply with the United States Constitution even in connection with ICE detainer requests (that is holding someone without a warrant), it is unclear the extent to which the state can force compliance with federal detainer requests as a condition of receiving state funding.  

3. We consider this bill to pose a more imminent threat than the President’s executive order. A version of the bill has passed the State Senate. The House could vote on this bill or another version of it as soon as March 13th. We urge people to call the Governor and their legislators and ask them to stand on the right side of this.

4. Governor Tom Wolf has not publicly committed to a veto. Several Democrats across the state did cross party lines in support of the Senate Bill.  The Governor has said that he believes the state legislature should focus on issues within their purview, like education funding and the opioid crisis. He said he believes that cities should be left to figure out their own relationship with the federal government, and that states have no reason or role to interfere with that. He has not gone so far yet as to say he will veto SB10, 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 Watson granted a motion by the state of Hawaii to turn his March 15th temporary restraining order blocking Trump’s revised travel ban executive order into a preliminary injunction. The move has a more lasting, permanent effect and extends the ban on enforcement while the case moves forward. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which previously ruled against Trump’s first travel ban, will now consider the Trump administration’s appeal.

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 historic low 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 prioritization of refugees who are religious minorities facing religious persecution.
  • The new Executive Order includes exemptions for the following categories of people: 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 Syria, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, or Yemen and another country.
  • Grants states and localities a greater role in determining the placement or resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions.
  • Allows for waivers to be requested by individuals from the 6 countries for visa applications made after March 16.  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 SB10. 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. 

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.