By Rachelle Martinez.
Long before Trump officially took office, people the world over have spoken out and protested against the policies he proposed should he be elected as President of the United States. Tightening existing immigration policies remain paramount amongst the changes he proposed taking in his first 100 days, as evidenced by the recent executive order he signed less than six days after swearing-in as our nation’s 45th president. On January 27th, President Trump signed the Executive Order entitled, “Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States”. This order is by definition intended to serve as a “policy of the United States to protect its citizens from foreign nationals who intend to commit terrorist attacks in the United States; and to prevent the admission of foreign nationals who intend to exploit United States immigration laws for malevolent purposes.” In principle, Americans would support such a measure; however, its lack of clarity, abruptness of existing measures undertaken by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and unspoken prejudiced towards certain groups of individuals have done nothing less than spark outrage, heighten concern, and mobilize the masses to protest in response. In a recent assessment of Trump’s travel ban and its global reverberations, Debra Amos, NPR reporter, indicates that “as the order took effect, travelers who had previously been issued valid visas were detained at airports around the country, prompting protests and calls for their release. Judge Ann Donnelly in Brooklyn, N.Y., issued a temporary restraining order barring the deportation of as many as 200 people, citing the ‘irreparable harm’ they would face. The mixed signals continue, however, as refugee advocates and resettlement groups say they lack guidance for helping refugees already in the pipeline.” Undoubtedly, we witnessed the balancing act of our government at play, as individual states and U.S. Circuit Courts have challenged and repealed Trump’s order. In Philadelphia, Mayor Kenney has made it clear that Philadelphia REMAINS committed to protecting all of its residents, regardless of what Trump’s Administration dictates; further, Philadelphia is NOT in the business of breaking families apart. Recently, the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, declared a new paradigm shift from supporting “Sanctuary Cities” to taking on a more punitive, “Priority Enforcement” stance. In defiant response, Mayor Kenney announced in early January that it would remain a Sanctuary City. Why is this important? Before presenting here the implications of Mayor Kenney’s stance, allow me to define what a “sanctuary city” is. A Sanctuary City, by definition, is a municipality that has adopted a policy of protecting unauthorized immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws and by ensuring that all residents have access to city services, regardless of immigration status. In the context of Trump’s clamp down policies, defying Trump’s authority has serious consequences for cities like Philadelphia. Specifically, Philadelphia faces losing up to $638 million in State and Federal funding to support City Operations–a significant pool of funds that this city relies on. The money paid for HIV counseling and testing, after-school snacks, analysis of narcotics evidence, services for neglected or abused youth, and the testing of DNA samples backlogged in the criminal justice system (Source: PhillyNews.com, 1/25/17, “Kenney Says Philly will Remain A Sanctuary City Despite Trump’s Order to Pull Funds”).
Certainly, the threat of losing this looms very close, since PA legislators are at this moment considering crafting PA legislation that would eliminate funding to support cities who defy federal policies. Based on the actions of leaders like Mayor Kenney and other notable mayors in large municipalities across our nation, the likelihood of lawmakers removing this vital funding will pale in comparison to the growing protests supporting immigrants, refugees, and other migrants here in the United States.
The question remains, however, will Philadelphia remain steadfast in its commitment to being an inclusive “City of Brotherly Love”? Undoubtedly, Philadelphia government has made significant strides in showing this steadfast commitment, and based on my observations from local efforts, she will continue to keep this stance for as long as possible. As recent as late January 2017, Mayor Kenney through his Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIMA) held a special Round-Table to serve as a launching in a series as a way to connect the Mayor directly with the ethnic communities’ journalists here in Philadelphia and keep them apprised of important information that they, in turn, can deliver to their respective communities in a timely and accurate manner. In addition, Mayor Kenney has continued to uphold and make considerable use of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIMA) as the premier conduit to engaging with various ethnic groups throughout the City. One of their flagship activities is the Mayor’s “Cup of the Nations”, which is an annual soccer tournament designed to increase varying ethnic communities’ visibility here in Philadelphia and celebrate each group’s uniqueness in our pluralistic community. “Philadelphia Immigration Hub” is another testament to Philadelphia’s commitment to integrating immigrants, particularly into the business community here in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub provides aspiring entrepreneurs and established small business owners with the tools and expertise they need to develop their businesses and is located in Northwest Philadelphia. It is a joint project of Mt. Airy, USA and The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. Further, the School District of Philadelphia has also played a proactive role in supporting immigrants and undocumented individuals. On Tuesday, January 24th, in response to the quelling fear and uncertainty of many immigrant groups, the School District hosted a town hall meeting that was led by Superintendent Hite to address students’ and parents’ concerns with regards to pending changes in immigration policy. Many parents expressed their concern over being separated from their children because they do not have legal status at present. And just like many others, the School District awaits the outcome of such policy changes, but in the meantime, they affirmed their role as advocate in support of keeping families together.