Philadelphia Mayor Nutter Orders Police and Prisons to Limit Cooperation with Federal Immigration Agents

Monday, April 21, 2014
Michael Nutter (photo: David Kidd, Government Technology)

Philadelphia’s top official has ordered police to stop cooperating with a federal deportation program when it comes to immigrants who have not committed serious crimes.


Under the Secure Communities program operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), cities such as Philadelphia had agreed to detain immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally who also had broken the law. The program was launched under President George W. Bush and continued during the Obama administration ostensibly to deport violent and dangerous criminals not authorized to be in the U.S.

But reports have shown that such deportations mostly involved individuals accused of only minor or no crimes at all. This has prompted immigration reform advocates to call upon the government to cease going after those not a threat to public safety.


About 17 local governments, including Miami, San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York City, have backed off on cooperating with ICE in recent years. This month nine counties in Oregon added themselves to the list.


But Philadelphia went one step further Wednesday when Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order ending the city’s compliance with ICE requests to hold arrested immigrants accused of non-violent crimes. The city’s move was different in that it also applies to prison departments, so the city will not inform ICE of a prisoner’s release unless the person was convicted of a violent felony and the ICE request is accompanied by a warrant from a judge.


“Philadelphia’s policy is in fact unique and cutting-edge,” largely because of the judicial warrant requirement, Sunita Patel, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.


Nutter said in a prepared statement that the federal program was “overly aggressive” and “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.”


“Philadelphia is a global, welcoming city. We welcome immigrants from all over the world to live, work, visit and raise their families here,” Nutter said.   “Initially, the purpose of local municipality ICE detainers and the Secure Communities program was to enhance the federal government’s ability to apprehend dangerous criminals who enter the country illegally.  But in practice, many of those being detained and deported have no criminal background or have only committed misdemeanors.”


Even before the announcement, Philadelphia’s detentions of immigrants had been in steady decline. ICE statistics show detainer requests went from 823 in 2011 to 735 in 2012 to 587 last year.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Phila. Acts to Halt Immigrant Deportation over Minor Crimes (by Michael Matz, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Mayor Nutter Signs Executive Order on City Policy Regarding Ice Detainer Requests (City of Philadelphia)

Sheriffs Limit Detention of Immigrants (by Julia Preston, New York Times)

Secure Communities and ICE Deportation: A Failed Program? (TRAC Immigration)

FY 2013 ICE Immigration Removals (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Immigrants Fighting Deportation Have Highest Success Rate in 20 Years (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

California Bucks Feds on Two Fronts: Deportation and Detention (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Obama Administration Finally Agrees to Release Information about Immigration Fingerprinting Program (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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