Philadelphia's new mayor, Jim Kenney, signed an executive order only hours after being sworn in that rescinds the city's participation in a controversial program set up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Kenney's order comes only a day after a series of ICE raids across the country that have been condemned by immigration activists.
"On his first day in office, newly elected Mayor Kenney reaffirmed that the City of Philadelphia is in fact the City of Brotherly Love,” Erika Almiron, director of the Philadelphia-based non-profit Juntos, said in a press release. “As ICE raids sew new levels of fear in our communities, Mayor Kenney is making sure local officials have nothing to do with it.”
Kenney's move does away with Philadelphia's participation in ICE's Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which was established by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in 2014 as a replacement for the Secure Communities program. The program uses biometric data to prioritize the deportation of detained immigrants who have been "convicted of an offense listed under the DHS civil immigration enforcement priorities, has intentionally participated in an organized criminal gang to further the illegal activity of the gang or poses a danger to national security,” per ICE's website.
While PEP has been praised by Johnson, activists on both sides of the immigration debate have had qualms about it. Immigration advocates say it will foster distrust between migrant communities and law enforcement, and those who favor strict immigration enforcement have called it ineffective and a threat to community safety.
In 2014, Kenney's predecessor, two-term Mayor Michael Nutter, signed a similar order that barred police from holding undocumented people solely on immigration detainers without an additional warrant. But Nutter signed an executive order on Dec. 22 signing Philadelphia onto PEP, prompting a thank-you from Johnson and outrage among immigrant rights groups.
At the time Kenney said he wanted Philadelphia to retain its status as a "sanctuary city."
Before taking office on Monday as the 99th mayor of Philadelphia, the 57-year old Democrat served on the City Council for more than two decades before being elected mayor in November.
During his time as a councilman, Kenney worked on inequality, immigration, gay rights and criminal justice reform. He has pointed to his Irish roots and Jesuit upbringing as the influences that make him passionate about those issues.
In a brief speech on Monday at the Academy of Music, Kenney highlighted his top priorities, including poverty, universal pre-K, gentrification and quality schools for all neighborhoods.
"Our children shouldn't have to take three buses to attend a good school," he said.
He also touched on neighborhood safety and relations between police and the community.
"Black lives do matter," he said to enthusiastic applause, adding that at the same time, police officers work hard and risk their lives every day.
He said he hopes Philadelphians can work together to make the city fairer for all.
"Government simply cannot do it alone," he said. "We need our businesses, our nonprofits, our universities and everyday Philadelphians to come together and row in the same direction.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.