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With threat of raids, immigrant groups say nothing but 'sanctuary' from now on

Immigrant groups say nothing will sell them on a local-federal deportation program, no matter how targeted it is.

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Newly inaugurated Mayor Jim Kenney signed an executive order Monday that barred almost all cooperation between city law enforcement and federal immigration agents, effectively restoring the city’s "sanctuary" status just hours after he took office. It was a sigh of relief for undocumented immigrant communities that — between the recent rollback to the city’s "sanctuary" policy and the threat of nationwide immigrant raids — have had a fearful month.

But Kenney made a small caveat.

Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson has been promoting the new “Priority Enforcement Program” (PEP), which purports to target undocumented offenders convicted of violent crimes or who are suspected of terrorism. Former Mayor Michael Nutter signed an eleventh-hour executive order that rekindled cooperation with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) along these lines, an act that immigrant groups viewed as betrayal. Critics called PEP a “repackaged version" of the controversial Secure Communities Program. Kenney vowed to overturn Nutter’s last-minute order, and he did.

He emphasized Monday that no immigration enforcement program will work unless there is community input. And that brings us to the caveat.

Kenney spoke with Johnson directly. He said that Johnson will send representatives to Philadelphia to try to sell PEP to local stakeholders — immigrant advocacy groups like Juntos, New Sanctuary Movement, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC) — at which point the new mayor might consider making changes. But until then “we are going back to our old situation,” he said. In other words, the city will keep the "sanctuary" policy that Nutter originally signed into law in 2014, revoked last month, and which was restored by Kenney on his inauguration day. That is, unless, said stakeholders see the light of PEP.

To save the new mayor some time, AL DÍA asked these immigrant groups if there was any chance they could be sold on a PEP program or something similar.

“Zero chance,” said Nicole Kligerman, a spokeswoman for the New Sanctuary Movement. “We fight against all deportations as well as any connection between ICE and Philadelphia. We have opposed PEP since its inception and will continue to do so.”

The groups argue that any cooperation between the local police and the federal immigration authorities creates distrust in immigrant communities.

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“We cannot support any policy, PEP included, that asks local officials to hand over information to ICE without a warrant,” Sundrop Carter, executive director of PICC, said in an email Tuesday. “Whether the program is targeted or not, it will create distrust and fear of local police. This endangers public safety by making it less likely that immigrant communities will report crime or otherwise interact with police for fear that they or a family member will be at risk of deportation.”

Erika Almiron, the director at Juntos, a Latino advocacy group based in South Philly, said she saw the fear escalate in her community after Nutter began talks of revoking the city’s ‘sanctuary’ status back in November. The raids on families of undocumented immigrants happening right now across the country haven’t helped ease the panic.

“If it was just the raids that were happening across the country, there would be a certain level of panic. But the level of panic we’re seeing right now is, I think, directly attributed to Nutter’s [policy change] and the confusion that it created,” she said.

Almiron has been receiving calls from undocumented persons from all across the region — Norristown, Kennett Square, Bensalem. There are have dozens of unsubstantiated reports of raids in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties. But for those living in fear of their livelihood, it can be hard to tell the difference between a federal raid and a routine law enforcement checkup.

“A uniform is a uniform. An ICE uniform, a police uniform — it all looks the same,” Almiron said. “If you don’t have to live through that, then I don’t think you understand what our people go through.”

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