By Cherri Gregg and Matt Rivers
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) --- Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order today that changes Philadelphia's policy on immigration and customs enforcement detainers, known as ICE holds. Immigration advocates are calling the new policy is one of the most progressive in the country.
The Mayor's statement, "it is so ordered," was met with cheers and chants from a standing room only audience of immigration advocates who say ICE holds break up families and lead to government distrust.
They're chanting si se puede, or yes we can.
Sundrop Carter of the Pa. Citizen and Immigration Coalition says, "This is really the culmination of a decade long battle to protect immigrant communities."
Under the new policy, the Philadelphia police will no longer hold undocumented immigrants for ICE officials unless the individual is being released following a first or second degree felony conviction and federal officials obtain a warrant from a judge. Mayor Nutter says the change in policy supports public safety and will help rebuild the trust between police and the immigrant community.
"Residents and others who are here will not need to fear that interacting with their government will end in a detainer for themselves or their loved ones," Nutter told the crowd.
Opponents to the policy, including Republican Matthew Wolfe (R), who's running in a special election for city council, say the new policy promotes lawlessness.
"These immigration issues are issues that need to be dealt with on a federal level," says Wolfe, "whether Mayor Nutter agrees or disagrees with federal law, he must facilitate it being obeyed."
Wolfe says the new policy will make Philadelphia less safe.
"So long as those laws are in place they need to be enforced, and the city needs to cooperate with our federal government."
Nutter says the new policy does not mean the city will be soft on crime. He says anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted and, if they are convicted, they will be punished.
"The executive order does not protect criminals from the criminal justice system," says Nutter, "it simply protects innocent individuals from in effect being punished when doing the right thing and cooperating with us to find and arrest real criminals."
Immigration advocates claim fear of ICE holds kept many in the immigrant community from reporting crime and cooperating with police. They call the order a win.
"It's been a long fight," says Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos. "We need to celebrate and then we need to get focused on how this is implemented."
"For us, this is proof that a community united can make a big difference," says Blanca Pacheco of the New Sanctuary Movement. "I'm really proud of the undocumented community-- it takes a lot of courage to come forward."
Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison says the city began implementing the order a few weeks ago and is working to train local law enforcement officials on the new policy.
"This controls the city and county of Philadelphia," says Gillison, "we will continue to work to educate our federal partners."
Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez says efforts to make Philadelphia more welcoming to immigrants will continue.
"We will work to make Philadelphia a safe place that protects people's civil rights," she says, "it doesn't matter how they got here, now that they are here, we will protect them all."
With this order, Philadelphia joins a growing list of cities like New York and Newark that have severely limited or ended local cooperation with ICE through detainers.
Many experts believe New York City will soon be following suit.
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