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July 29, 2015

Kenney to speak in favor of Philly's 'sanctuary city' status

U.S. House of Representatives bill seeks to punish cities like Philly

Jim Kenney, the man likely to be Philadelphia's next mayor, will speak at a press conference Wednesday morning at LOVE Park to support Philadelphia's status as a “sanctuary city” where police refrain from routinely checking immigration status and sharing it with federal authorities.

He will speak at an event hosted by the pro-immigration group Philadelphia Family Unity Network and against a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week that seeks to withhold federal grants from cities who pass “sanctuary” rules.

“I don’t want us to be known as the city that deports,” Kenney said back in 2011, according to an article in Philadelphia magazine.

RELATED STORY: Congressional Republicans target Philly, other 'sanctuary cities'

Sanctuary cities, such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, have been criticized by Republicans and activist groups for sheltering immigrants in the United States illegally. The controversy has grown after the July 1 killing of Kathryn Steinle, 32, who was allegedly shot dead on a San Francisco pier by a man who had repeatedly entered the country illegally.

The murder has strengthened the call from conservative proponents of tough immigration policy who maintain the Obama administration is not doing enough to weed out threats posed by undocumented immigrants.

Though the practice ignores immigration law, the cities have not been prosecuted by the Obama administration.     

The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto the bill on the grounds that it would support police checking immigration status "from any person at any time for any reason."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, said the White House is to blame for the cities' policies. 

"This administration has chosen to create enforcement-free zones for millions of unlawful and criminal aliens. It has turned the U.S. into a sanctuary nation. That is the current reality," Goodlatte said. 

“In San Francisco … law enforcement officials are expressly prohibited from enforcing federal immigration policies,” said U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Michigan, who chairs the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. “It is hypocritical of these cities to purposefully defy federal immigration laws and then turn around and ask for federal law enforcement grants. It isn’t right, it isn’t legal, and it creates potentially dangerous situations for their citizens.”

The bill passed last week on a vote of 241 to 179, largely along party lines.

Proponents of local policies that protect individuals from deportation argue they prevent a "dragnet" approach where anyone who comes in contact with the criminal justice system could be kicked out.

"What was happening [before] is people were being arrested and then handed over to ICE without ever being convicted of anything," said William Stock, president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Philadelphia became a sanctuary city in 2014 when Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order limiting who could be referred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency known as ICE, for deportation. Under the city's current rules, only convicted violent felons are referred to the federal government for deportation.

“In practice, many of those being detained and deported have no criminal background or have only committed misdemeanors,” Nutter said in a press release at the time he signed the order. “As a result of overly aggressive use of these detainers, there has been a negative impact on some immigrants who will not report crimes to the police, don’t want to be witnesses, and suffer accordingly.”

A press release from Philadelphia Family Unity Network published ahead of Wednesday’s press conference called the bill passed by the House the “Donald Trump bill.” In his presidential campaign announcement, Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists.”

“Opportunists in Congress have recently attempted to use a tragic shooting in San Francisco to bring these [sanctuary] policies into question,” the Family Unity organization said. The release added that the bill simply reflected prejudice.

Kenney will be joined at the press conference by other local officials, community leaders and members of the mayor’s office.

Reuters contributed to this report.