President Trump moved Wednesday to strip federal funds from sanctuary cities like Philadelphia, signing an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to make such cities ineligible for almost all federal grants.
In response, Mayor Kenney said he had no plans to change the city’s immigration policy, saying the order did not specify which funds the administration would strip from sanctuary cities, and stressing that Philadelphia would avail itself of “every opportunity we have to protect our citizens and protect our people who are living in our city."
Trump also ordered the building of a wall along the Mexican border. Together, the executive orders echoed the hard-line stance on immigration central to Trump's campaign.
Later this week, the president is expected to sign more orders restricting the flow of refugees into the United States. The current proposal includes at least a four-month halt on all refugee admissions, as well as a temporary ban on people coming from some Muslim-majority countries, according to the Associated Press.
Sanctuary cities do not honor the requests of federal immigration officials to hold undocumented immigrants in custody for nonviolent crimes. Proponents say that removing the threat of deportation makes undocumented immigrants who are witnesses or victims of crimes more likely to speak with police. Opponents say the policies lead to the release of dangerous criminals.
Immigrant-rights groups countered that Philadelphia is a better city for its sanctuary policies, and said they were prepared for a fight – echoing sentiments from other sanctuary cities around the country. In Boston, Mayor Martin Walsh called the order a “direct attack on Boston’s people.”
U.S. Sen. Cory A. Booker (D., N.J.) said he had instituted a sanctuary city policy when he was mayor of Newark and called the executive orders “wasteful, ineffective, and contrary to some of our most cherished American values.” Newark’s current mayor, Ras J. Baraka, said he would continue the policy despite the federal order.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said the order would strip “needed resources from communities across the country,” including funds for schools and domestic violence outreach, and would distract police from their beats.
Trump’s orders were met with praise from Republicans like U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and State Rep. Martina White of Philadelphia, who have pushed bills that would defund sanctuary cities at the federal and state levels, respectively. Toomey said in a statement that it was “crucial we end dangerous sanctuary cities.” In an Inquirer column published last week, he wrote that the policy had led Philadelphia police to release dangerous criminals, including one man with an immigration detainer who posted bail after he was charged with raping a child.
Federal grants have a far-reaching impact in Philadelphia. In fiscal year 2015, more than $340 million in federal grants was filtered into nearly two dozen city departments. The money paid for HIV counseling and testing, after-school snacks, analysis of narcotics evidence, services for neglected or abused youth, and the testing of DNA samples backlogged in the criminal justice system.
But it’s unclear what Philadelphia could lose. The order said only that the secretary of gomeland security and the U.S. attorney general should “ensure that [sanctuary cities] are not eligible to receive federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes.” Trump also ordered the Office of Management and Budget to send him information on all federal grants that sanctuary cities receive.
And the Trump administration could be sued over the order. Some federal courts have found that local jurisdictions cannot detain immigrants beyond their jail term or deny them bail based only a request from immigration authorities.
Kenney said it was his understanding that Congress would need to approve any changes in federal funding, and that the funds would have to be tied to public safety programs. Because the order did not identify specific revenue streams, he said, he was not going to speculate on its impact on Philadelphia.
He said that he believes that Congress would need to approve any changes in federal funding and that the money would have to be tied to public-safety programs.
“That would go to police, firefighters, and other public-safety entities,” he said. “If the United States Congress wants to vote to take money away from police and firefighters, that will certainly be up to them to explain to their constituents why they’re doing that.”
If Trump’s administration does pull back any funding, Kenney said, his administration has several options.
“We have our congressional folks," Kenney said. "We have the courts. We have lots of protections. This is not a dictatorship. This is a democracy.”
Toomey also said that withholding some federal funds from cities would require an act of Congress. “More needs to be done, as President Trump is limited in what he can accomplish through executive order,” he said.
The Philadelphia Republican Party sent out a statement saying Kenney was “endangering the fiscal health of the city.”
“With a rising tax burden and a looming pensions crisis on the horizon, Mayor Kenney appears to govern so much at the whim of the radical progressive wing of his party that he will forsake the rest of us in the meantime,” the statement said.
Republican House members, in town this week for a GOP congressional retreat, have not been too sympathetic toward sanctuary cities. Not only will they lose federal grants, they shouldn’t count on infrastructure funding in the spending package that is being drawn up, said Rep. Chris Collins (R., N.Y.).
"Sanctuary cities I don’t believe are going to be getting federal assistance for much of anything until they start abiding by the law,” Collins said. “They need to protect their citizens. Their citizens will be outraged as federal funding is cut off, and they should be outraged that they are put at risk.”
Fifty-eight percent of Philadelphians support the city’s sanctuary-city designation, the Pew Charitable Trusts found last year.
"The victory of Philly's sanctuary city was huge," said Peter Pedemonti, the executive director of the immigrant group New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia. "It was won by immigrant communities. We've seen a broad impact on our immigrant members — a reduction in deportations, to begin to reduce the number of people who are separated from their families."
He said his organization's members feel safer here. He spoke of an undocumented woman whose husband had been mugged at gunpoint before Philadelphia became a sanctuary city; the couple were too frightened to cooperate with police. Her husband was mugged again after the sanctuary-city decree. This time, Pedemonti said, they reported the crime and followed up with police.
Another New Sanctuary Movement member sold Mexican food from a cooler and a shopping cart before the sanctuary-city policy, Pedemonti said.
"After the policy in Philly, they had the trust to go register their business. Since then, they've expanded it to buy a food truck," he said. "So it not only benefits them, it benefits the whole city as an economic boost."
The announcement of the wall so early in Trump’s presidency sets a tone that has alarmed immigrant-rights groups here about what could come next, said Erika Almiron, president of Juntos, the South Philadelphia immigrant support group.
"There’s urgency everywhere," Almiron said. "We're bracing ourselves for what's coming, and for our loved ones and our families to know their rights. We're going to expect our local cities and municipalities to stand with us, to come out even stronger in our support."
Before the order came out, Almiron said, she was equally alarmed by reports that the refugee program would be shut down, by an order Trump signed this week to continue construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline — which American Indians have been protesting in frigid conditions for months — and by a tweet Tuesday night threatening to "send in the Feds" if Chicago’s homicide rate did not drop.
"We're in dangerous times when the president reacts that way against communities of color," she said. "And the border wall is no exception."
The refugee restriction orders are expected to be signed this week. The Associated Press reported that the proposals included a ban on entry to the United States for at least 30 days from countries including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, though the AP source, a person from a public policy organization that monitors refugee issues, cautioned that details could still change.
There is also likely to be an exception for those fleeing religious persecution if their religion is a minority in their country. That exception could cover Christians fleeing from Muslim-majority nations.
Across Pennsylvania, the nonprofit agencies that resettle refugees responded with dismay to the potential ban on Syrians and others from countries racked by terrorism. Since November 2015, the Nationalities Service Center has resettled 247 Syrians in Philadelphia. An additional 20 are in the center's pipeline, but could be denied admission to America now.
“The Syrians we’ve helped come to Philadelphia have enriched this community to an extent that we would never see otherwise," National Service Center executive director Margaret O’Sullivan said. Eighty percent of all refugees are employed within 120 days of arriving, said the director of outreach, Juliane Ramic. “When refugees arrive, they do put America first," she said.
Cathryn Miller-Wilson, executive director of HIAS-PA, another of Philadelphia’s resettlement agencies, said banning refugees from the shattered Middle East is “a recipe for catalyzing even more instability and chaos in that part of the world.” She said her agency received its first Syrian refugees last spring, and has resettled 88 since then.
“The thing about closing the border, either temporarily or permanently, is that for every Syrian we resettle, there are family members stuck back there in a refugee camp for one reason or another," she said. Trump's ban could affect family-reunification petitions, too, she said. “He is responding to fear by creating more fear. He’s creating more desperation.”
At Church World Service, a resettlement agency in Lancaster, director Sheila Mastropietro said the agency had resettled 74 Syrians since 2016, helping them get homes and jobs across Lancaster County. Now, she said, “they are fearing how the general population is going to feel about them.”
Mastropietro said a Syrian family of five is scheduled to arrive Feb. 8, but that might not happen now.
There are an estimated 65 million refugees worldwide, the highest number since World War II, and the number resettled is only about 1 percent. The U.S. traditionally takes the most refugees, Mastropietro said. Now, that could change.
"We are talking about a big mass of humanity that we are turning our back on," she said.Staff writers Thomas Fitzgerald, Jonathan Tamari, and Claudia Vargas contributed to this article, which also contains information from the Associated Press.