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Mayor Considers Adjusting Position On Immigration Enforcement, Alarming Activists

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- With just six weeks left in its term, the Nutter administration is considering making changes to an executive order that governs city co-operation with U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE), a move that has immigrant advocates up in arms.

City officials say the changes under discussion are a response to the end of the ICE "Secure Communities" initiative, which asked local police to help immigration enforcement, and that it represents a victory, of sorts, for Philadelphia and dozens of other cities that refused to participate.

"We have been advocating for changes in secure communities for five years," says deputy mayor for public safety Everett Gillison.

But advocates say the new ICE Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) is equally problematic and the city should not co-operate with that either. They question the timing of changes to the executive order, so close to the inauguration of Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, who has taken a strong stance on immigrant rights.

The executive order signed in April 2014 states, "no person in the custody of the City who otherwise would be released from custody should be detained pursuant to an ICE civil immigration detainer request.... nor shall notice of his or her pending release be provided unless such person is being released after conviction for a first or second degree felony involving violence and the detainer is supported by a judicial warrant."

Gillison says the mayor is considering reporting release dates, if ICE asks about specific prisoners held by the city and they are wanted for any of the following crimes: murder, rape, child abuse, aggravated assault, robbery, being part of an international drug ring or on a terrorist watch list.

"That's all we would do. We would not detain anyone. We would still require that they get a warrant," says Gillison, "We thought that was a common sense approach to high publicity and high targeted people who have issues in their background that the mayor and most feel they should not be here if they're causing that kind of carnage on our streets."

Immigrant advocates, though, oppose any co-operation with ICE.

"It's just going to create confusion, which is going to lead to more deportations and more distrust between immigrant communities and law enforcement," says Sundrop Carter of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition. "We need to continue building trust."

Carter and others learned of the wording change under consideration from Gillison himself, who invited them to a meeting to discuss it.

They went immediately to Kenney's office to seek assurance he would oppose the change.

Kenney says he is still studying the matter but also will not detain people on behalf of ICE.

The advocates are curious about the timing. Secure Communities ended a full year ago so, they ask, why the changes now, six weeks before the end of Mayor Nutter's term.

Gillison provided no clarification, insisting there was nothing odd about the timing.


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