Kenney restores 'sanctuary city' status

City Councilwoman Helen Gym (right) signals her approval as Mayor Kenney signs an executive order stating that city authorities will not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests for undocumented immigrants, in the Mayor's Reception at City Hall soon after his inauguration.

Mayor Kenney on Monday barred almost all cooperation between city law enforcement and federal immigration agents, reverting to a policy that made Philadelphia one of the nation's "sanctuary cities."

"The only way that people buy into [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is when they . . . have input into the process," Kenney - who had promised to rescind his predecessor's eleventh-hour order on his first day in office - said at a signing ceremony where immigrant-rights activists cheered.

Kenney said he had spoken with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who is promoting "Priority Enforcement," a replacement for "Secure Communities," an ICE program that has been rejected by immigrant groups and dozens of municipalities, including Philadelphia, as overly aggressive.

Kenney said Johnson will send ICE representatives to Philadelphia to brief immigration stakeholders on the new program and try to explain why it does not have the shortcomings of Secure Communities.

"But until that happens," he said, "we are going back to our old situation," which, between April 2014 and late last month, barred police and prison officials from telling ICE agents about an undocumented prisoner's pending release unless the person was convicted of a violent felony and ICE's request was supported by a warrant.

Juntos, an immigrant rights group with offices in South Philadelphia and Norristown, said Kenney's executive order "reaffirmed" Philadelphia's place as the City of Brotherly Love.

Nicole Kligerman, a spokeswoman for the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, said, "We are thrilled. . . . By ending the unjust collaboration between ICE and city officials, he recognizes the significant contributions immigrants make to Philadelphia."

Sanctuary cities, where undocumented immigrants are largely sheltered from deportation, have been lightning rods in Congress and the Republican presidential primary campaigns.

After a woman was gunned down in San Francisco - allegedly by an undocumented immigrant - last year, Republicans unsuccessfully proposed legislation to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities.

mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541@MichaelMatza1

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