Advocates for immigrants rallied outside of city hall Wednesday morning, calling on the city to stop honoring immigration holds on those in police custody.
Issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, these administrative holds request local police to keep someone up to 48 additional hours to facilitate transfer to federal custody.
City council held a public hearing on the city's compliance with the ICE holds on Wednesday. During the hearing, Michael Resnick, the city's public safety director, announced that Mayor Nutter plans to sign an executive order that would, in its current draft, end ICE detainers except for people convicted of first or second degree felonies, such as murder.
"Individuals who have committed minor offenses, summary offenses, or traffic offenses will no longer find themselves facing deportation proceedings, ultimate removal and separation from families," Resnick said.
The order is considered a loss for ICE advocates who argue that undocumented immigrants are breaking the law.
"Accommodating those who violate our laws only encourage more lawlessness," said John Ryan of Southampton, Pennsylvania.
Blanca Pacheco, an organizer with the immigrant advocacy group New Sanctuary Movement, said people are already going through the criminal justice system before they're detained and even deported for immigration reasons.
"At this point, not only the individual is being punished, but also the family members who are left behind when they are deported," she said.
It's a federal matter, according to Ubon Mendie, a spokesman for ICE.
"The federal government alone sets these priorities and places detainers on individuals arrested on criminal charges to ensure that dangerous criminal aliens and other priority individuals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities,” Mendie said.
But City Councilman Jim Kenney echoed Pacheco, saying Philadelphia can do its own public safety enforcement.
"We have a great police department. We have a great district attorney. He has a great charging unit. We have great judges and a great court system," Kenney said. "And I think we ought to be able to sort it out ourselves without involving any other governmental entity."
Advocates say immigrants will still fear going to the police as long as officers cooperate with ICE.
At a community meeting a few weeks ago in the basement of a Catholic church in South Philadelphia, a precinct captain told a roomful of immigrants they might want to look at alternatives to calling the police over domestic violence if they're worried about deportation of their partners.
"ICE holds are not a public safety issue," said Villanova University visiting law professor Caitlin Barry. "ICE holds determine whether that person is turned over to immigration for a second level of punishment."
On Wednesday an ICE spokesperson told NBC10 that they don't comment on pending issues but said that their highest priority is to "maintain public safety."