Mayor Nutter on Tuesday changed the rules about what information the city shares with the federal government about some immigrants, a policy shift that will last less than two weeks.
Mayor-elect Jim Kenney has vowed to roll back the change, which has been under discussion for six weeks, after he is sworn into office on Jan. 4. A Kenney spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that he still plans to do that.
Nutter altered his 2014 executive order, which barred the city's Police Department and prison system from complying with federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants who otherwise would be released pending trial or after having served sentences.
The city will now, if asked by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), provide information about when someone will be released from custody if the federal government says that person is engaged in or suspected of terrorism or espionage, or is being released after a conviction as part of a "criminal street gang" or for a first-degree felony involving violence, unlawful possession of a gun, or drug trafficking.
As with Nutter's 2014 order, the city will not hold someone unless ICE gets a federal detention order.
Nutter won acclaim last year from immigration activists for making Philadelphia one of 22 "sanctuary cities" that refused to comply with "ICE holds," which called for detention without an order from a federal judge.
Kenney was among the City Council members and immigration-aid groups that pushed last year for Nutter to issue the order.
Nutter, speaking at a City Hall news conference where unhappy immigration activists outnumbered reporters, stressed that he was making a "narrow change," acting on a promise he made to President Obama and Jeh Johnson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to review his executive order.
He said changes that were made in moving from the controversial federal Secured Communities program, which prompted that order last year, to the "much more flexible" Priority Enforcement Program addressed his concerns about sharing information on immigrants.
Johnson responded to Nutter's change in policy with a statement Tuesday that called it "good for the public safety" in Philadelphia to "prevent dangerous, removable criminals from being released to the streets."
Erika Almiron, director of Juntos, a South Philadelphia group that serves Latino immigrants, told Nutter during his news conference she sees little change from the old federal program to the new one.
"What we don't understand is how you can think this is any different from another dragnet program that in the end will impact our community," she said. "You have two weeks left [as mayor]. What do you get out of this?"
Nutter again said his action was about keeping a promise to the president.
"This has nothing to do with dragnets or snatching people up off the street," Nutter said. "These are folks who are already in custody."
Nutter, asked if he knew if Kenney would keep the change in policy in place, said: "We have not had that level of conversation."
"I'm sure he will be diligent and take the time to read through this and have further discussions," said Nutter, who added that he did not want to predict Kenney's decision.
Nutter briefly engaged with the activists after the news conference. They chanted "Shame, shame, shame" as he left.