Mayor moves to make immigrant affairs a permanent cabinet post

Pat Loeb
December 04, 2018 - 3:49 pm
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney

Holli Stephens / KYW Newsradio, file

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Mayor Jim Kenney wants the Office of Immigrant Affairs to outlast him, so he's seeking a charter change to make the office a permanent part of city government. 

The mayor's office said a bill to put the charter change on the May 2019 primary ballot will be introduced at this week's City Council session. 

"The importance of the immigrant community to the health and well-being of Philadelphia cannot be overstated," said Kenney in a statement. 

Five years ago, there was no office in Philadelphia government to address the concerns of immigrants. Mayor Michael Nutter created the first one, and Kenney doubled down, giving it new duties such as Immigrant Business Week and the Unity Cup soccer tournament. 

After the election of President Donald Trump, it took on new importance, especially when the sanctuary policy came under fire. 

RELATED: Federal appeals court hears arguments over city's immigration policies

First Deputy Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the city's success in attracting new immigrants means the office will be needed indefinitely.

"They're our eyes and ears in the community," he said. "I don't think that this administration would have been as successful in turning policy to practice."

He noted that the office has gone well beyond flag-raisings and translation services.

"They've helped us coordinate all of our policy responses on a host of issues: the refugee ban, the DACA extension, our Welcoming City policies. They've been a driving force around our municipal ID program," he explained.

Abernathy took personal responsibility for the change in policy on federal immigration requests. Last year, he had granted a handful of the requests out of concern for public safety, but he now considers that a mistake, saying that including others in the decision should give the immigrant community more confidence.

"Having some checks and balances around those notifications is appropriate," he continued.

Kenney also announced that he will modify internal procedures so that more city officials will get involved when ICE agents ask for a prisoner to be held or released.

Abernathy will be consulting with the city solicitor, his criminal justice deputy and the Office of Immigrant Affairs.