Former Mayor Michael Nutter—recently hired by the Department of Homeland Security—repealed his executive order that made Philadelphia a sanctuary city in December of last year. Thankfully, newly elected mayor Jim Kenney reversed Nutter’s repeal on Jan. 4, 2016, making Philadelphia a sanctuary city yet again.
This means requests from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the Philadelphia Police Department to relinquish undocumented immigrants into their custody can now be denied, unless the person has committed a first or second-degree felony.
Cindy Zhou, a former Chinese citizen and freshman nursing major currently enrolled at Temple, lived with her grandparents in China for 10 years while her family immigrated to the United States. After her parents obtained green cards, they requested for her to come to the United States during President Bush’s first term. She received a call in the summer of 2009 to come in, have her papers reviewed and leave China for the United States.
It is unjustified how something you can’t control—your place of birth—could cause a long-term separation from your family. As a country, we should not exclude people from the rights that were given to us by chance; or refuse to help the undocumented immigrants who are already here.
In November 2014, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to put into effect Deferred Action for Parents of American and Lawful Permanent Residents. This program would give approximately four million illegal immigrants who are parents of legal citizens or residents an opportunity to avoid deportation for a renewable three years and obtain work permits, but the act is hanging in the balance.
Jaicha Valerio, a freshman biology major, was born in the Bronx, New York after her parents and sisters left the Dominican Republic. Valerio’s grandmother is currently trying to come back to the United States after being deported due to an expired Visa 16 years ago. Valerio’s mother is a current resident, but her Visa expires in March.
“Shes running out of time to decide to study, she doesn’t speak very good English, so she’s really nervous about taking the test and failing and it expiring right there,” Valerio said.
Although gaining residency status in the United States is a possible step to citizenship, it is not a secure one. If the DAPA program is finally passed it would help many illegal immigrants avoid being subject to deportation for three years or more if renewed again.
After 26 states filed a lawsuit, the Supreme Court is evaluating whether or not President Obama’s executive order to enforce DAPA oversteps his presidential power.
David Allen, a professor in the sociology department who teaches Ethnicity and Immigration in the U.S., told me how undocumented immigrants pay taxes and contribute to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, even though they do not benefit from it.
Philadelphia transitioning back to a sanctuary city also prevents ICE from using the police as a tool to target a relatively small number of undocumented immigrants are found breaking the law.
“If we look at crime rates, police records, if we look at prison populations,” Allen said. We know how many migrants there are in the country, we know how many undocumented migrants there are in the country, because many of them are paying taxes, which is part of the reason why we know. Their population in the prisons is disproportionately lower than their population size so they’re not big contributors to crime.”
Without the protection of a sanctuary city, undocumented immigrants are left vulnerable to ICE if they commit a petty crime. Unlike any other citizen, these people have more to lose.
“Cities are recognizing that we need these people,” Allen said. “We depend upon these people so we want to make them feel safe. That’s in essence what they’re doing by declaring the city a sanctuary city.”
Giovanny Zapata, a pre-med major whose parents immigrated from Colombia, considers himself an advocate for the cause.
“I am in support of Philadelphia being a sanctuary city only because immigrants have this stigma that they’re here only to steal from Americans, like their jobs. But what they’re actually doing is creating jobs for Americans,” he said.
The stigma that immigrants steal jobs from Americans—known as “the Lump of Labor Fallacy” according to a New York Times article—is based on the notion that there is only a certain amount of work to be done. The theory also explains that one can only get a job by taking it away from someone else.
Although this act will prevent many undocumented immigrants from being targeted by ICE, I hope Mayor Kenney and the federal government keep fighting for undocumented immigrants—not just for the sole reason of helping the economy, but to give immigrants the human rights they are living without.
Zari Tarazona can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.