Bensalem officials have dropped plans to have township police officers partner with ICE agents to enforce federal immigration laws, the Bucks County Human Relations Council announced Wednesday.
The township's proposal had drawn outrage and opposition from scores of people who packed a public hearing in January, and from organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, Bucks County NAACP, a Latino business group and several agencies that are active around immigration issues.
Efforts to reach Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo and Public Safety Director Fred Harran were unsuccessful.
Human Relations Commission Chairwoman Peggy Dator said she spoke with the mayor in recent weeks, and again on Wednesday morning, when they reviewed the news release on the matter and he restated his commitment to dropping the plan.
"It's a great thing for democracy," Dator said in an interview. "They listened to the public's concern."
Others expressed similar views.
"I'm pleased with the outcome of our advocacy efforts, and want to thank all those who called, raised their voices, wrote letters, and signed petitions," said Theresa Conejo, a Bensalem resident and NAACP member who helped lead the opposition. "The people's voice was heard."
At issue was Bensalem's potential participation in Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "287(g)" program, in which ICE partners with state or local police agencies that agree to help enforce immigration laws within their jurisdictions.
If approved, Bensalem would have become the first Pennsylvania police agency to join with ICE.
Members of Buxmont Inclusive and Progressive, a year-old grassroots advocacy group, opposed the plan, as did Make the Road Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, a justice organization.
ICE officials say the 287(g) program — named for a clause in federal law — strengthens public safety and helps build consistency in immigration enforcement across the country. Some local communities see the program as a way to make their towns safer, and to help catch and deport dangerous criminals.
Public Safety Director Harran earlier portrayed the proposed partnership as a tool to remove criminals from the community. Law-abiding undocumented immigrants would have nothing to fear, he said. The ICE partnership would come into play only when a crime is committed for which an officer would make an arrest, Harran said.
For instance, he said, a motorist who was pulled over for an expired inspection or broken headlight would not be questioned about immigration status. But a driver stopped and arrested for drunken driving, if undocumented, would be turned over to ICE, and from there possibly deported.
As of January, ICE had agreements with 60 law-enforcement agencies in 18 states, and had trained and certified more than 1,822 officers, according to the agency. The program largely went dormant under President Obama, but has been revived since President Trump was elected.