HIAS Pennsylvania Supports Philadelphia Policing Policy That Builds Trust in Immigrant Communities

The City of Philadelphia has become known as a “Sanctuary City” because the administration has developed a carefully crafted policy in which police focus on community policing and preventing crime instead of enforcing our civil immigration laws.   HIAS Pennsylvania supports this policy.

The federal government’s program to turn police into immigration agents has been a dismal failure.  Until recently, under the guise of the Secured Communities Program, police routinely turned people over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation, but the result was that long standing residents with minor infractions were torn from their families and deported.  Other individuals, who were actually U.S. citizens were picked up and held without charges because local authorities assumed a limited English speaker was an immigrant.  In fact, it was just such a case that gave rise to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Galarza v. Szalczyk et al. holding prison officials and police liable for violating the constitutional rights of Galarza, a Puerto Rican U.S. citizen held in prison at the request of ICE who mistakenly thought he was an undocumented immigrant.  Cities with large immigrant populations recognized what was happening and began withdrawing from the program.   The Secured Communities Program was then disbanded and in 2015, the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) was put in its place. PEP supposedly gave localities more discretion about which immigrants ICE agents could pick up.  But the PEP program’s goal is still to get local police to turn over immigrants to ICE without requiring ICE to obtain a warrant, a basic protection against unfair and arbitrary arrests.

 Many immigrants and refugees come from countries where they fear authorities, who in some cases, were also persecutors.  In order to build trust in local law enforcement and promote community policing, local police cannot be expected to enforce immigration laws.  The Major Cities Chiefs Association, in October, 2011, issued a statement expressing concern about police acting as immigration agents because “It undermines the trust and cooperation with immigrant communities which are essential elements of community policing.”  The statement further explained that police lack resources to enforce immigration laws and do not have the training required to understand these complex laws.  Most significantly, enforcement of immigration laws “detracts from the core mission of local police to create safe communities.”

 HIAS Pennsylvania’s staff works with many immigrant victims of crime, including domestic violence crimes and know first-hand how important it is for these victims to feel they can report the crimes to the police without fear of deportation. Philadelphia’s policy of not involving local law enforcement in federal immigration enforcement is a sanctuary policy for all residents—immigrant and native born alike--because to the extent individuals feel safe to report crimes, we are all safer.

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