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July 29, 2015

Kenney blasts congressional legislation aimed at 'sanctuary cities'

The Democratic mayoral nominee vows to maintain Philly's designation as a 'sanctuary city'

Immigration Sanctuary Cities
Carroll - Mayor Kenney Sanctuary Cities Press Conference Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney re-iterated his support of Philadelphia as a sanctuary city Wednesday despite congressional legislation targeting cities that fail to enforce U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests.

Jim Kenney called on Congress Wednesday to be "as animated and energetic about gun violence and education as they are about holding immigrants without a warrant."

Kenney, the Democratic mayoral nominee, joined the pro-immigration Philadelphia Family Unity Network and representatives of local politicians at a news conference to oppose federal legislation targeting "sanctuary cities." Such cities, like Philadelphia, refuse to comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests to detain any undocumented immigrant arrested by local law enforcement agencies.

"I'm here to support the Constitution of the United States and the requirement that anyone held against their will have a warrant for their arrest," Kenney said. "As far as I know, the Constitution trumps ICE and any other regulations or requests. We're all for safety in our streets and safety in our communities. We'll hold people at the request of the federal government when they have a warrant for them to be held."

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to deny federal grant funding to cities that do not report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. The bill, approved largely along party lines, was a response to the killing of a 32-year-old San Francisco woman, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times.

The killing has boosted calls from proponents of tough immigration policy who argue the Obama administration is not doing enough to reduce threats posed by undocumented immigrants. But advocates of sanctuary cities say the policies create trust between police and immigrants, who might otherwise be afraid to report crimes.

"Overboard immigration enforcement undermines everyone's safety," said Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs. "In fact, surveys show that immigrants are less likely to report crime when they fear deportation. If we eliminate the fear of deportation, immigrants are more likely to cooperate with police and become engaged with government, which increases safety in our neighborhoods."

Mayor Michael Nutter designated Philadelphia as a sanctuary city in April 2014, a move that drew the praise of immigration advocates. Kenney, a city councilman at the time, vowed Wednesday to continue Nutter's policies if elected mayor in November's general election.

"What happened in San Francisco is a tragedy," Kenney said. "It happens every day here amongst native-born Americans. No one seems to be upset about the killing of young African-American males in the city. But if a Mexican immigrant kills somebody, the whole world has to come to an end.

"I think the Congress should be concerned about what goes on in our city streets when it comes to gun control and access to weapons, as opposed to worrying about this one tragic incident. ... Those are the things they should be working on — keeping people safe from guns and keeping people educated."

Melissa Murray Bailey, the Republican mayoral nominee, has pledged to end Philly's status as a sanctuary city, claiming the practice puts Philadelphians at risk. She instead supports pathways for law-abiding immigrants to receive citizenship.

"Plain and simple there should not be a bureaucratic executive order in place that orders the Philadelphia police to release an individual here illegally, that could have been previously convicted of a violent crime, multiple drunken driving violations or any other number of crimes that endangers the people of our city," Bailey said in a statement. "As a mother of a small child, on issues of safety, I feel Philadelphia must act with common sense and cooperate with the federal government to make sure our streets are safe for everyone."

The Philadelphia Family Unity Network, a grassroots coalition, worked with the Nutter administration to designate Philadelphia as a sanctuary city. The coalition hosted Wednesday's news conference to defend the sanctuary city policies as critical to immigrant communities.

"As the birthplace of freedom and the City of Brotherly Love, we must stand against policies that seek to divide us, tear us apart and create more hate than anything else," said Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, an immigration rights organization.

Representatives of Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who was indicted on racketeering charges today, also voiced their support.

Under the Secure Communities program, ICE requests any undocumented immigrant arrested be detained, an effort to apprehend dangerous criminals who enter the country illegally.

Despite practices ignoring immigration law, the Obama administration has not prosecuted sanctuary cities. The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto the House bill, saying it supports police checking the immigration status "from any person at any time for any reason."

Information from Reuters was used in this report.