A coalition of advocacy groups gathered outside City Hall on Monday to decry an anticipated city policy change that would renew cooperation among Philadelphia police, local jails, and federal immigration agents.
The reversal, less than 18 months after Mayor Nutter banned such cooperation, is expected to be announced in the waning days of his administration, which ends Jan. 4.
"We won't allow Michael Nutter to throw our communities under the bus in the eleventh hour," said Erika Almiron, executive director of the Latino rights group Juntos.
"I thought I lived in a city where a mayor kept his promises," said Rabbi Linda Holtzman.
The speakers were surrounded by about 60 supporters of Latino, Asian, and other descent.
In interviews, several complained of a growing anti-immigrant sentiment in America driven largely by the rhetoric of Republican presidential candidates, notably Donald Trump, who wants to wall off Mexico from the United States.
"The wall might be tall," read a sign held by one demonstrator. "My freedom is higher."
Last week, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison, in a contentious private meeting, told advocates Nutter is poised to roll back his 2014 executive order on immigration. That order, which supporters hailed as putting Philadelphia among the nation's "sanctuary cities," ended Philadelphia's compliance with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to detain immigrants who otherwise would be released pending trial.
The order will likely be modified again, Gillison said in an interview, to allow cooperation if a suspect is accused of murder, rape, robbery, domestic violence, illegal possession of a firearm, or involvement in terrorism.
Advocates fear the change will further distrust between immigrants and police, and "tear apart families" through deportations.
After their meeting with Gillison, the advocates went immediately to the office of Mayor-elect Jim Kenney. Kenney's spokeswoman told them that if Nutter orders local-federal cooperation, Kenney would end it, retaining the status of Philadelphia as a sanctuary city.
Addressing the demonstrators Monday, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez said Nutter should put the immigration matter "in a transition binder," brief Kenney, and let him decide if a change is warranted.
Sundrop Carter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, said, "It's mystifying to us that six weeks before leaving office, [Nutter] has decided to backtrack ... for no public reason and no public good."
The advocates are confident they have Kenney's support, she said, but will need evidence to verify their trust. "As you can see from this event, we're not going to stand quiet just because someone says they're our friend," Carter said. "You show your friendship and support by action."