Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney spoke about the city’s immigration policies at the crowded Perry World House Wednesday. The conversation was part of a day-long Perry World House event, where officials from cities across the nation gathered to discuss changing local and national immigration policies.
Kenney used much of his speech to highlight new policies in Philadelphia designed to protect immigrants, such as the termination of the preliminary arraignment reporting system, a cooperation agreement by which the city reported real-time arrest records to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
About halfway through the event, a woman in the crowd shouted over Kenney, asking why the Berks County Immigrant Family Detention Center, one of the three family detention centers in the country, remains open.
The woman, who later identified herself as Alison McDowell to The Daily Pennsylvanian, accused the city of not being active enough in lobbying the State Government for its closure. Within minutes, two staff members surrounded McDowell and stood next to her until she ended her interruption.
"These events are meant to portray a certain narrative. I mean it's theatre," McDowell said, who told the DP she attended the meeting on behalf of the group Abolish ICE. "Sometimes you just have to be a little loud."
Kenney responded to McDowell by noting his limited authority as Philadelphia Mayor. He insisted that he had been attentive to the controversy surrounding the detention center. His response drew applause from the audience.
"I'm the most visible person on this issue, we've done the most on this issue, and we're the ones getting yelled at for stuff that we can't control," Kenney said.
Throughout his speech, Kenney boasted Philadelphia's progressive immigration policies. He declared Philadelphia a “Welcoming City,” officially defined as one where city employees are not permitted to ask residents about their documentation status, according to the Office of Immigration Affairs website. He also addressed the practice in Philadelphia of issuing city ID cards to undocumented residents and described the policy's many benefits.
Kenney also stressed diversity as an integral part of the city’s health and character.
“[Helping immigrants] is not just the right thing to do, it’s not just the moral thing to do, it’s not just the Christian thing to do, or the Jewish thing to do, or the Muslim thing to do, or the Buddhist thing to do,” Kenney said. “It’s good for business, it’s good for our citizens, it’s good for our community, where people come into a neighborhood that is declining and put in sweat equity and effort in rebuilding it.”
He spoke, too, about his opposition to the Trump Administration's family separation policy, by which undocumented children are detained separately from adult relatives when caught crossing the border.
College freshman Lauren Nguyen enjoyed the talk and said she could relate on a personal level to Kenney's eagerness to help immigrant communities feel welcomed in the city.
Nguyen said her dad was a Vietnam War refugee who was not allowed to stay in the US.
"It took years before my dad got an immigration green card and became a citizen," Nguyen said. "So I personally want more people who were in my dad's position to be able to come to a country like [the US] and get an education like [Penn's]."