Interview: Should Philly Welcome or Deport Undocumented Immigrants?

Nicole Kligerman of the New Sanctuary Movement says deporting is harmful.

544913_591937554149688_1154527354_nNicole Kligerman is a community organizer for the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, a coalition of faith-based organizations that welcome and work with immigrants to the community—including undocumented immigrants. This week, it appeared the coalition was nearing a long-standing goal when the Inquirer reported Mayor Nutter will soon order an end to the city’s practice of reporting its arrests of undocumented immigrants to federal authorities, and holding those individuals for federal deportation. (Arrestees charged with severe crimes of violence would still be reported to immigration authorities.)

Kligerman talked to Philly Mag about why the old policy is harmful and the opacity of City Hall on immigration issues.


So there was a story in (Thursday’s) paper about how Mayor Nutter will be issuing an order that basically greatly curtails the city's cooperation with immigration authorities. What is your objection to the city's current arrangement?

So what's happening right now in Philadelphia is Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which is the deportation wing of the Federal government — has direct access to all Philadelphia police databases and information. Currently, ICE issues a not-mandatory hold request to local law enforcement to hold non-citizens who would otherwise be released. And [local law enforcement] hold them and then transfer them to federal custody for deportation.

So our campaign focuses on ending those non-mandatory requests — and Mayor Nutter does have the discretion to do so. This is a national trend, there are 17 localities throughout the country that have ended [this cooperation]. We believe it is time for Philadelphia to follow the national trend and actually welcome our immigrant community members.

Do you have a sense of how many people have been deported from Philadelphia as a result of this arrangement?

Well unfortunately the city of Philadelphia has turned down our repeated Freedom of Information requests and “Right to Know” requests to get those exact details. We anecdotally know the number to be in the hundreds. That is information that we are looking to get from the mayor’s office at the March 3rd hearing on ICE holds, in City Council.

I'm probably guessing a number of the people would argue that the people we're talking about, that they are here illegally anyway. Make the case to someone who's maybe a skeptic: Why shouldn't undocumented immigrants be deported, particularly when it seems they have run afoul of the law?

Yeah, absolutely, that's a great question, Philadelphia grew for the first time in 60 years in large part because of our immigrant communities. This is in the City of Brotherly Love, immigration is in the fabric of our system. Mayor Nutter has stated that we are a welcoming city, which is in large part to attract the businesses that immigrants bring. Now, there are many mixed-status families — that is to say children who are citizens with parents who are non-citizens — and the deportation process is deeply traumatizing to families and communities.

This process is not reimbursed from the federal government to the city of Philadelphia, so our tax dollars are subsidizing deportation and the deportation of our workers and our business owners and friends and community members, while at the same time cutting essential services. So we'd like that money that is currently being spent on deportation to be put back into the essential services that all Philadelphians need.

When police and ICE are working together to deport people out of Philadelphia, it also greatly increases mistrust of the police, there's so many people who have gone to police asking for help and have ended up deported. The police's role is to protect and serve — and when they are actually acting to deport non-citizens out of Philadelphia it makes the city more dangerous for all of us, they're not doing their jobs to protect and serve, their doing ICE's jobs to deport.

Since the folks who have the holds on them have been arrested, should Philadelphians then be concerned that maybe we're harboring criminals that are missed when we don't have to?

Deportation is a civil action, it's not one of the criminal justice system. When police and ICE are working together it's actually obstructing the criminal justice's due process to convict and detain people with criminal convictions. If someone commits a crime, they go to jail, they serve their time, they're rehabilitated and should be released and not undergo this double punishment of being further deported. Ending ICE hold policy will in no way change the criminal justice system as it is — however flawed — as it's currently working to give out criminal sentences.

There had been objections to this arrangement with ICE for several years now, since it all began, why do you think the mayor is only acting now?

You know, I applaud his move to listen to community members and to curtail the policy, although we do think it should go further, [but] we have not been invited to talk to him. I'm not sure why he has changed his mind; we would love the opportunity to be engaged in a meaningful way in the process of creating new immigration policy. It's interesting to see in the Inquirer article, that he has been apparently working on a new proposal since the summer, and we take it as a victory of years of organizing by immigrants and their allies to actually create policy that honor everybody's justice and dignity in Philadelphia, regardless of their immigration status.

Follow @joelmmathis on Twitter.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • MystiKasT

    Undocumented? You mean ILLEGAL immigrants? Jesus this magazine is so incredibly PC it is disguisting.

    • Calling someone “PC” is so1997

      I assume you refer to yourself as an ILLEGAL driver every time you roll through a stop or exceed the posted speed limit. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570177157 Brandy Baron

    When are these people going to learn the HUGE difference between ‘immigrants’, who respect our laws and borders and ILLEGAL ALIENS, who don’t respect our laws or borders? I wonder how many of them have no locks on the doors of their homes and allow anyone and everyone to enter anytime and help themselves to all that is theirs? Over 1 MILLION people come here legally EVERY YEAR. Those are immirgants. People who have no respect for our laws and borders have no respect for our country and people. Those are illegal aliens. They don’t deserve ANY part of the American Dream and neither do their children. (By the way, I’m an American of Mexican descent so don’t waste your old racist whine on me.)

  • kenny

    I will do whatever is legally necessary to help my maid stay. She works very hard in cleaning my home. It’s difficult enough for her to take three buses from north philly to Lower Merion. Many of my neighbors use her as well. She even clears the snow for us!

    • Kenneth Snobbington-Cohen

      Why do you make her take the bus?
      Just have your limousine pick her up.
      Duhhhh….

    • Ray Kerstetter

      yes, why don’t you have her live in your home?(Like Alice did in the Brady Bunch). Why does the process take so long to make her documented? I’m glad you want to help, but I’m sure you could have gotten a legal alien to do the maid stuff, or even an American born citizen in the first place!

    • A LEGAL IMMIGRANT since 1999

      An illegal alien has no SSN and hence cannot legally work in the USA, which also means they do not pay any taxes and most likely do they properly contribute to society.
      Seems like you have just confessed to you and your neighbors breaking the law by helping harbor an illegal alien and also employing an individual who does not have any rights in this country, including the right to be employed.
      So, you are in fact involved in criminal activity and are also condoning it as well!
      How about you and your friends do the right thing by employing somebody who is legally entitled to work and pays taxes? Why not sponsor this beloved illegal alien, or would that be to much cost and effort for you?
      Oh wait, you just want cheap labor from people who have no legal rights or recourse – sounds like a modern version of slavery to me…

    • Kathleen3

      I would suggest you read up on the accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln.

  • Ruth Tolman

    People in the country illegally are breaking the law! Americans are suffering and veterans live in poverty THEY should be the focus of the media and politicians. Uphold the law – deport!

  • wiselatina2theright

    So much fior the 9/11 commission recommendations. Apparently illegal alien criminals demand to avoid deportation trumps public safety of citizens and legal residents.

    • Kathleen3

      Testament to that is the over 60,000 Americans killed/murdered and the over one million victims of sexual assaults committed by illegal aliens. Those we trust and pay to enforce the laws are the same most guilty of violating them. They are also the same who want to reward illegal aliens while offering up American citizens as human sacrifice in order to achieve their sinister goals.

  • wiselatina2theright

    Citizens’s rights to have our laws enforced, respected trumps illegal aliens demands to haveour government aid, a et andhar ortheir criminality.

  • Kathleen3

    Any and every elected or appointed official who does not actively and aggressively work on purging their districts of illegal aliens is violating their oath of office and existing federal law by aiding and abetting.

    Over 60,000 Americans have been killed/murdered and over one million the victims of sexual assaults committed by illegal aliens. These victims are truly the people who will never come out of their shadows (aka graves).

    There is a fine line separating gross and willful dereliction of duty from treason and any person who has taken a sworn oath and then allows illegal aliens to remain in our country will have crossed that line.

  • Jan

    So wait…If they are convicted of a crime serious enough to do jail time for, we are supposed to release them back into the city and not deport them? Hopefull I misunderstood that comment. Same old tired excuses being used for allowing them to stay.
    Oh except for one…City of Brotherly Love….kudos on that one. Somehow I knew that excuse would be thrown into the mix.